Fijian workers tackle low wages
UnionAID’s recently completed pilot project in Fiji is starting to unlock real change for hundreds of low paid garment and manufacturing workers as they find their voice again.
The project’s early survey found few workers were aware of their rights with less than a quarter aware of their rights under the Wage Regulated Orders (WRO) Shockingly many were being paid less than the WRO minimum wage of NZ$1.55, denied overtime pay or access to sick leave. A number of workers revealed unsafe workplace practices included burns from cleaning chemicals.
Eager to learn more, hundreds of workers attended the education workshops run by project leader Kuini Lutua in their communities and at the union offices. These covered labour rights, Wage Regulated Orders and role plays to show how workplace issues can be raised with employers or the Ministry of Labour. The workshops also raised awareness of the role trade unions can play and the principles of collective action.
Since the survey and workshops a number of large employers have lifted their wages to at or slightly above the legal minimum and workers in one factory have joined the union and are negotiating their first collective agreement. During the project a new National Minimum Wage of FJD$2.32 was introduced, however garment workers remain on their WRO rate of FJD$2.24 making them some of the lowest income workers in Fiji.
A new two year project funded by UnionAID will seek to build on the momentum of this pilot project and aim to lift wages and compliance in the garment sector as well as targeting some other industries with poor conditions such as retail, construction and security.