The president ,
Members of the management board and selection committee of the party
Invited representatives of the community
Ladies and gentlemen
Today marks the beginning of another journey for me to help end the oppression and suffering of workers and the trade union movement of our country .
I have spent the better part of my life as a trade unionist fighting for workers rights. And I can say with experience that there have never been worse laws and labour practices than those seen under the current government leadership since around 2009.
This has been the longest period of suppression of workers rights and wages while cost of living has been on the rise. Ordinary workers are finding it difficult to put food on the table.
Trade unions have been under attack by decrees such as essential services decree of 2011 that made trade unions in essential services powerless with decades of negotiated benefits lost and access to dispute settling machinery denied.
Public sector unions were also denied access to dispute settling machinery. More recently they have lost job security as a result of fixed term Employment contracts, loss of substantive positions and demotions, reduced retirement age and unfair wage adjustments, all in the name of reforms.
Trade unions ability to take strike action or protest is now almost non existent under current laws. Unions in public and private sector have been denied the right to have their strike ballots supervised causing prolonged delays in concluding collective agreements. Even simple protests and demonstrations are not permissible under the laws.
The union movement has seen permits for protest march through Suva refused on three separate occasions without valid reason.
For all these reasons the workers and trade unions are justifiably angry and are seeking justice. They must not be denied any longer.
We must have labour laws that are consistent with international labour standards and that promote justice.
The actions of the current government must be reversed. Labour laws need to be amended to restore trade union and worker rights for all workers. Essential services must be redefined in accordance with ILO standards and right to strike and peaceful demonstrations restored and protected as fundamental rights the exercise of which must not be impaired by law or practice. Rights and benefits lost because of essential services decree must be restored by law and not be subject to prolonged negotiations as has been the case for public servants, airline workers and municipal workers for example.
In the public sector retirement age must be restored to 60 years and those affected by the reduction suitably compensated. The losses, demotions and disadvantages arising out of recent reforms need to be corrected in full consultation with public sector trade unions.
Fixed term Employment contracts must be made unlawful for all workers in public and private sectors except for those in higher management positions.
Collective bargaining rights must be fully restored for all workers and procedures simplified for resolution of disputes.
Every worker must be legally entitled to a living wage that enables him or her to provide for basic necessities for the family. In this regard the NFP’s $5.00 an hour rate needs to be implemented at the soonest together with measures to reduce cost of food and other basic needs.
The workers and unions have suffered for too long and are crying out for fairness and justice. Clearly all this can’t be achieved without a trade unionist being elected to be the workers voice. It is for these reasons that I have resigned all my union positions to stand for elections so that I can advance the cause of workers.
As stated by the leader I could be the only unionist contesting these elections because of the several restrictions imposed on us. And as much as many of my colleagues would have liked to be present at this announcement they are constrained by unjust laws from being here.
My message to all the unions and workers is that I have heard your cries. Therefore I am taking this step to correct the injustices inflicted on you. And I look forward to your support in this journey so that we can right the wrongs together and once again restore the respect and dignity of the every worker and the union movement.
The employers also cannot deny that a well paid and fairly treated workforce is essential for productivity improvement and better service delivery.
Before I conclude I must thank my family- my wife Priscilla, son Ravi, daughter- in- law Zoya, my daughter Jyoti and my little grandson Yash for not only bearing with me all these years but also for all the support you have rendered. Without you I couldn’t do this.
Many thanks also to the many trade unions and people whom I consulted and some of whom are here to show support.
And finally I must thank the NFP, a party to which I have already given many years of my life in various capacities including general secretary and leader for giving me this opportunity to champion the cause of our workers and the union movement.
We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get on with it.