This was a 10 month project designed to educate vulnerable low-wage workers in the garment, manufacturing and retail sectors about their employment rights under the Wages Council system and Wage Regulated Orders. The National Union of Factory and Commercial Workers (NUFCW) aimed to promote union membership as a way to improve outcomes for employees, ensuring better pay, and protection through collective activity and bargaining.
NUFCW surveyed workers to highlight the main issues that affected them. They found that 76% of workers were most concerned about wages and that many of those surveyed did not know what their minimum wage was under the Wage Regulated Order. Workers also raised other issues including being required to work long shifts without breaks, casualization of work and no contracts supplied to workers. Factory workers also complained of not being paid for overtime worked, or not being paid penalty rates.
When the project started the WRO for garment was $2.24 where the national minimum wage was $2.32: the wage order was lower than the minimum wage!
NUFCW lobbied the government by sending postcards to look at the plight of these workers.
Organising for this project was not without its pitfalls – some employers were aggressively anti-union and sacked and demoted anybody they deemed to be leading union organising onsite. Workers complained of being sworn at and abused by their supervisors when they raised issues of wages and contracts
In spite of this there was strong interest in the union with one worksite having 97% of workers express interest in forming a union and others with more than 50% of workers willing to join unions.
This short project illustrated that there was a need to organise in this area, and that even though they faced dismissal and abuse workers recognised that they were stronger in a union. Thus, a second phase of this project was funded by UnionAID – you can read about it here.
UnionAID’s project leader was Kuini Lutua who has extensive experience in union organising and campaigning and is the former General secretary of the Fiji Nurses Association. For this project she worked alongside the National Union of Factory and Commercial Workers (NUFCW)
Fijian workers aren’t our only partners to face aggressive anti-union tactics. In 2018 UnionAID partners BIEN, supported the United Workers of Alorcia who went on strike to fight for better work conditions, and wages.