Minimum wage becomes a central issue in Fiji Elections

Employers’ Federation calls for wider and realistic debate

Venkat Raman in Suva

Minimum Wage has become a bone of contention in the ongoing election campaign in Fiji with two major parties saying that they would raise the level if voted to power by the ruling government says it has to be a part of a long-term plan involving ‘serious discussions’ with all the stakeholders.

Varying wage rates

Minimum Wage or hourly rate in Fiji differs between industries, ranging from F$ 2.68 per hour to more than $4 per hour. A foreman in the building sector earns F$ 5.22, a Class I Tradesperson gets F$ 4.30, an underground miner in the mining industry has a minimum rate of F$ 4.69 an hour, a log truck driver in the sawmilling and logging industry earns $4.25 an hour.

NFP’s Promise

National Federation Party Leader Dr Biman Prasad has promised to raise the minimum wage to F$ 5 per hour if his Party is elected to form the next government following the General Election scheduled to be held on November 14, 2018.

“We will raise the minimum wage within the first 100 days,” he said.

In an earlier communique, Dr Prasad said that seeking an increase to the ‘meagre rate’ of F$ 2.68 is an attempt to enhance the livelihood of our ordinary people as well as the main objective of cushioning the impact of the skyrocketing cost of living, apart from removal of VAT and lowering of duty on 15 basic food items,” he had said.

FijiFirst Challenges

During a radio debate with Dr Prasad on Thursday, October 25, 2018, FijiFirst Party General Secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum challenged him, not for the first time, to ask businesses backing his Party to start paying their employees $5 an hour immediately.

“Pay increase must be done responsibly, an all Wage Councils should review their wages. We have announced that in the next 18 months, there will be a full review of the Wages Councils and they will then decide on the wage rate. There should not be any exceptions in the National Minimum Wage Rate,” he said.

Rational Policy backed

Fiji Commerce & Employers Federation President Sandeep Chauhan agreed, saying that there should be a well-structure discussion process with everyone involved, including employers, Wage Councils and government officials.

“There has no consultation with any of us before Dr Prasad made the announcement that his NFP would hike the wage rate to $5 in less than 100 days if his Party was voted to power. Neither he nor others have taken into account the low level of productivity (about 3%) that persists in Fiji, the spiralling effect that a wage increase will have on inflation, employment and business confidence,” he said.

The Sectors

Those under the 10 Wage Sectors, which include Printing, Wholesale & Retail, Hotel & Catering, Garment Industry, Sawmilling & Logging, Road Transport, Building, Civil & Electrical Engineering Trade, Manufacturing, Mining & Quarrying and Security Services have a minimum rate of more than $2.68 an hour.

Government Subsidy

Mr Chauhan said that that those advocating wage increase, including Dr Prasad, have refused to take into account several other important factors.

“While large and medium sized-businesses will be able to absorb a higher rate of wages, small businesses including retail stores, restaurants and others will not be able to cope. They will simply pass on the burden to the customers or wind up their businesses. There will be large scale job losses,” he said.

Mr Chauhan said that coffee shops, petrol stations, supermarkets and cinema houses, slapped with increase in wage rates will raise prices, affecting ordinary Fijians.

The Federation is of the view that the resultant unemployment will also hit young people and first-time job seekers as there will be no incentive for employers to recruit more staff.

“There should be wider consultation on this issue. It is also important to know that there is a government subsidy scheme for those with less than F$ 30,000 a year on electricity and water. Politicising wage increase will do more harm to our workforce then help.

“Besides, there are many other priorities that political parties must follow. These include better higher education, public health services and infrastructure,” Mr Chauhan said.

Mr Chauhan and his brother Vikesh, who manage ‘Star Printery Private Limited, one of the largest commercial and digital printers in the country, said that they follow an open-door policy with their staff and have in place measures to look after their interest and welfare.

“We want our people to grow and prosper. We have a high productivity rate and we treat them with respect and care,” they said.

Founded in 1984, Star Printery Ltd is a private family owned company with an extensive selection of finishing styles.

“Star Printery is Fiji’s only facility with in-house services that encompass all phases of printing from design to pre-press, sheet-fed to finishing, mailing to delivery and other services. Our purpose-built printing complex is situated on a 45,000 square feet site in Raiwai,” the Chauhan brothers said.

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Photo :

  1. Dr Biman Prasad (left) and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (right) at the ‘Vijay Narayan’ Straight Talk Radio Show on October 25, 2018 (Courtesy: Fiji Village Facebook)
  2. Sandeep Chauhan (Picture Supplied)

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