FIJI GOVERNMENT HOPEFUL UNIONS WILL CALL OFF STRIKE

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SUVA, Fiji (April 22, 1998 - PACNEWS/Ioane)---The Fiji government believes the proposed national strike by union members Thursday is putting serious pressure on an already ailing economy.

Permanent Secretary of National Planning Robin Yarrow says the government is hoping that unions will call off their planned strike now that the government wage guidelines, calling for no more than three percent raises during 1998, will not be imposed, Island Networks Corporation reports.

The government agreed Tuesday not to implement the order, and referred the dispute to a meeting of the Tripartite Forum, which advises government on industrial issues.

Other labor issues include the prospect of lay-offs caused by restructuring and the refusal by some employers to deduct union fees from their workers' wages.

Yarrow said it is clear that the economy is in a weak shape, noting that it has been contracting for several months and its continuing to contract.

With the growing likelihood of a severe drought in the country, he said the proposed protest would only serve to aggravate matters.

Yarrow said government is in favor of the national strike being called off and the parties discussing the issue in a constructive and coordinating manner.

Meantime, growing concern over the strike has prompted the country’s Electricity Authority to assure its customers on the main island of Viti Levu that normal services will be maintained if the Fiji Electricity Authority Union members walked off their jobs.

Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) spokesman Peni Volavola says the company's national control center in Vuda, in the Western Division, will be manned by their executive officers.

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