“Lifting Minimum wage is not an option, but a need”
Venkat Raman in Suva
October 29, 2018
While the Ruling FijiFirst Party and the Manufacturing and the Fiji Commerce & Employers Federation (among others) insist that any increase in the minimum wage should be considered only after broad consultation, National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad believes that the issue has been mired in politics.
“Rising cost of living is the single-most immediate and important issue that responsible politicians and employers must consider. Besides, our Party put out this proposal 16 months ago as a part of our policy in forming the next government following the 2018 General Election. It is irresponsible and escapism to say that there has been no consultation or that we have brought it up now,” he said.
Fiji is now in election mode with polling set to be held on Wednesday, November 14, 2018. Eligible Fijian citizens living overseas must return their ballot papers in the secure DHL return envelope to reach the Fiji Elections Office in Suva by 6 pm on the Election Day, as reported four days ago.
In a long, wide-ranging interview with Indian Newslink at his office in Suva today (October 29, 2018), Dr Prasad said that rationalised government spending and employers’ cooperation will help the NFP achieve its national objectives.
“The current minimum wage of F$ 2.68 per hour is unsustainable for poor families. As per the Household Survey conducted in 2013-2014, a family of four needs at least F$ 220 (after tax) per week to meet its minimum requirements. With most families below and just above the poverty line accounting for only one breadwinner, even at F$ 5 per hour, that person must work 45 hours a week to earn sustainable income. Currently, about 50% of families are earning just $110 per week. This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” he said.
Dr Prasad accused the current government and some employers of scaremongering, skirting the issue and evading social responsibility. He saw no merit in the argument that employers would lose money and cut down jobs, giving rise to unemployment.
“Big businesses are earning millions of dollars and hence can certainly afford to pay our proposed minimum wage. In fact, most of them do so already. As for Small and Medium Enterprises, we have a package that would ease their burden. The problem is that no one is prepared to discuss the issue with us and help the working community,” he said.
Incentive Package for SMEs
Dr Prasad said that the NFP has designed a special package of incentives to help SMEs implement the minimum wage programme, which he has promised to enforce within the first 100 days in the event of forming the next government. The incentives would include government subsidies, tax rebate, subsidisation for e-Commerce platform, integration of business process with technology and other measures.
He said that special and differential support will be provided to SMEs and businesses in low wage sectors.
The package of policies will increase the productive sector capacity and reduce cost for business, improve profitability, employment and growth, he said.
“With our policies, we will develop sectoral strategies for e-commerce integration into agriculture, retail, manufacturing and services.
“We will examine the structure of these companies and offer them ways and means of coping with increased minimum wage. The problem is that no one wants to discuss the matter with us. They should understand that while rise in prices of some commodities is clearly beyond anyone’s control, we can certainly ensure that the income of poor people rises to meet the high cost of living,” he said.
Shift in major policies
The NFP is campaigning on major policy changes in several areas of the Fijian economy, including Health, Education, Tourism, Agriculture and Fiscal Management.
“Affordable housing is another major problem in Fiji. We have abundant land in our country to build houses for common people. When in government, we will allocate F$ 800 million over four years to provide houses for those in need. We will build between 10,000 to 20,000 houses in two years which will help in the settlement of squatters,” he said.
There are thousands of people in the Squatter Settlements all over the country.
But Dr Prasad did not explain how these many houses will be constructed within the short span of time suggested but said that his Party was working out its strategy.
The Labour Government in New Zealand is facing the challenge of fulfilling its election promise of building 100,000 new homes in ten years.
“We will announce our plan in due course. Since we are not in government, we do have access to monetary figures and other details. But we are confident of making our plan work. The current government has no doubt implemented a few good policies and schemes, but the poor people have been largely neglected. It is time to address them.
“The mood of the people today is vastly different to what it was in 2014. The Change is coming,” Dr Prasad said.
Indian Newslink will report on other issues that Dr Prasad articulated, shortly.