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An amendment to the Fiji Employment Relations Act passed in Parliament last night, requires employers to prove that they are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in terminating employees.
The amendment seeks to provide a more realistic work environment which enables the sustainability of jobs and businesses, and to clarify the meaning of “an act of God” during the COVID-19 period.
The changes allow employers to let go of workers if they cannot provide work or the contract of service is frustrated or its performance is prevented by an act of God.
In the amendment an act of God includes a pandemic as declared by the World Health Organisation.
However, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says in using this provision, employers have a high burden of proof.
“The burden of proof is on the employer to prove that it was an act of God; in this case the pandemic.
They can’t for example, if business is going well, fire fifty workers. He or she has to prove that it is because of the pandemic if they are going to use the pandemic argument. That’s the safeguard,” said Sayed Khaiyum.
Meanwhile, government must act immediately to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and save jobs, says former Reserve Bank governor and Unity Fiji leader Savenaca Narube.
He made the comment in the wake of Fiji Airways’ announcement that 758 workers were terminated on Monday.
Narube said because of Government’s indecision and inaction, more people would require welfare assistance.
He said Government was not being decisive and proactive in making bold decisions quickly enough to have any meaningful impact on saving peoples’ jobs and their livelihoods.
“Unfortunately, Government is drip-feeding its assistance programme with inadequate funding and failing to properly target those in need of assistance,” said the former governor.
“I understand the financial bind that Government faces at this crisis. But we can find a way if we are innovative enough.
“Government needs to act smart. The milking of the FNPF (Fiji National Provident Fund) is not the right answer.
“The cost of not doing anything far outweighs the cost of doing the right things now.”
Narube said he had already proposed a $1 billion (US$500 million) cash injection to boost the Fijian economy with cash payments to affected employees similar to what has been done in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia and was now being considered in New Zealand.
“It is the kind of decisive and bold action that needs to be taken right now to save our country,” he said.
“Otherwise it is just too little and too late while the country slips further into deep recession and severely affecting a lot more people than now.”
Narube called on the Employment Ministry to put the spotlight on Fiji Airways after the mass termination of 758 employees.
He said the ministry needed to “closely monitor the situation now developing at Fiji Airways and other companies in the same situation, in order to protect the rights of workers and to ensure that they get fair compensation for their work”.
“I also wish to encourage companies like Fiji Airways, to be fair to their employees who have stood by its side for many years.
“On leaving the airline, these employees deserve to be compensated in accordance with their terms and conditions of employment and to be rehired as soon as the situation improves,” he said.
SOURCE: FBC NEWS/FIJI TIMES/PACNEWS
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