The National Union of Workers refutes the comments attributed to the Chairman of the Board of Water Authority of Fiji, Mr. Bhavesh Patel.
Mr. Patel claims that no one is being terminated. This is completely false. The Minister for Works just last week confirmed to the media that 600 permanent staff and 2300 temporary workers were going to be terminated. He appeared to make the argument that there was going to be some sort of restructure. Its either the Minister or Mr. Patel not telling the truth. Water Authority has not even met with the Union to even convey its intentions prior to handing out termination letters to workers. These letters are now in the public domain.
Mr. Patel goes on to argue that “where in the world do workers not sign individual contracts.” Mr. Patel may like to do just a bit of research here in Fiji. He will find that in companies where Unions exist and a Collective Agreement is in place, no individual contracts are signed. This applies to both the private sector and Government owned entities and in the Civil service until a few years ago when fixed term contracts were imposed. He may even wish to read ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on the Right to freedom of Association and the right to Collective Bargaining. Entering into a collective Agreement on behalf of members through collective bargaining is a core function of Unions.
The Chairman goes further to explain about project workers. The Collective Agreement between the WAF and the Union has only two categories of workers. They are permanent and temporary. Permanent are those that have worked for WAF for 12 months or more and temporary are those that have worked for WAF for less than 12 months. The Authority despite giving the Union repeated assurances that a list of the two categories of workers would be made available both in meetings and before the Arbitration Court has to date failed to do so. What we are experiencing is that workers with years of service are being terminated under the guise of project workers. No worker has signed a contract ending on 30th April 2019, no is there any such provision in the collective agreement. It is either Mr Patel has been misled by his people or is simply ignorant of the facts.
We would like Mr. Patel to confirm how many workers are being terminated and the real reasons for the mass terminations. It is baffling that WAF has not given any reasons for the terminations. We are aware that there are more than 300 projects that are incomplete and left in limbo. This is not normal. Quite apart from this, we are also aware that contractors to WAF are not being paid in a timely manner. For the last month or so, all transport contractors have been withdrawn and workers are made to walk to their workplaces and this includes meter readers. Clearly, there is something seriously wrong and is being hidden from public. It is time for the Chairman or Government to explain to the people.
The Board of WAF and the Government must take full responsibility for this massive termination. This is the biggest termination of workers ever in Fiji’s history. The NUW will never accept such treatment of workers. Where is the decent work and respect for ILO Core Conventions that Government is supposedly committed to? This is the height of hypocrisy and a stab in the back of workers.