“ We must ensure adequate social safety nets for workers for situations like this pandemic and during natural disasters” . This was one of the several recommendations made by the FTUC National Treasurer Mr Agni Deo Singh during the ILO-ADB report on “Tackling the COVID-19 Youth Employment crisis in Asia and the Pacific” at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva on 9th September 2020.
The FTUC presented its key findings from the Rapid Assessment ( see full report here) that was carried out during May to June this year on the impact of COVID on union members.
Mr AD Singh presenting the ILO ADB joint Launch
The survey conducted in collaboration with the ILO Suva Office revealed serious concerns on the status of employment of workers in various sectors as a result of COVID actions by employers. The targeted sectors were the :
- tourism and hospitality,
- manufacturing and retail
- airport services
- airline industry
The age group of the target was nearly 50% in the youth age category of below 35 years. The survey revealed some dismal facts:
- Working poverty will increase as affected workers on reduced income are taking home 70% less than what their family needs in a week.
Almost 50% of affected workers on reduced income are earning 30% less compared to pre-COVID-19. Based on the minimum wage rate and 30% reduced income, an average worker on reduced hours would be taking home $75.00 a week.
Based on the Fiji HIES (2008-9), the Basic Needs Poverty Line (BNPL -$) was $144 (2003) and $186 (2009), therefore it can be estimated that in 2020, an urban family of 4 would need a minimum of $260 per week.
Therefore, it can be assumed that the take-home pay of the majority of workers on reduced income, is 70% below the 2020 estimated BNPL ($).
2. Union membership is proving to protect rights and employment of workers
The majority (86%) of workers that have not been terminated or made redundant, are on leave without pay and reduced income.
This indicates that unionised workers, to an extent, were able to negotiate their outcomes. This will allow them to return to their jobs when business returns to normalcy. Interestingly, survey staff saw increased interest among non-unionised workers to join or form unions.
3. Productivity will further reduce if current and redundant workers are not re-skilled and supported.
The majority of those currently in employment are dependent on their current jobs for income and will be left behind if not supported.
Should there be a further shut down of businesses, 94% of workers indicated that they do not have capacity to transit into alternative forms of employment. Of these, the majority live in urban areas and do not have access to land or village social safety nets.
4. Unemployment will increase and consumption will further decline if redundant workers are not re-skilled and re-transited to employment.
54% of redundant workers have not been able to secure jobs and the majority of these workers are in urgent need of income support. 46% of redundant workers surveyed have ventured into self-employment, with the majority transiting easily as they have access to land and fisheries. The rest – who are mainly in urban areas, are operating as home-based micro businesses and accessing customers through community organised and/or road-side markets, social media and door-to-door sales.
5. Workers risk being left behind and retiring in poverty.
Ninety-nine percent (99%) of workers want government to do more to protect their jobs and rights. Although 81% of workers surveyed indicated they benefited from the government announced stimulus package, workers felt that government should do more than buffer their income losses from their own retirement savings in the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF).
Considering that 70% of members have less than $10,000 in their FNPF account (Fiji Sun, 17 Sept. 2018), the further use of workers funds would deplete their eligibility to support their education, home purchases, etc. and create a national retirement crisis, placing further burden on families to support their retired parents and stress on government resources such as social welfare, medical services, etc.
Some of the key recommendation pillars were as follows:
- Stimulating economy and employment
- Reconfigure and re-aligning traditional economic sectors to emerging economic sectors
- Introduce national incentive scheme for production of Fiji-made import substitute products and services.2. Supporting enterprises, jobs, and incomes
2. Increase employability of young people, particularly in new emerging sectors
- Make incubator and accelerator programmes effective and accessible
3. Protecting workers in the workplace
- Support workers’ loss of income through social protection lens such as wage subsidies, unemployment insurance
Relying on social dialogue for solutions
- Undertake employment and business policy reviews through tripartite Consultations
- Convene and operationalise the Employment Relations Advisory Board with genuine social dialogue and progress
Mr Agni Deo Singh also mentioned that some rogue employers had taken advantage of teh situation and no consultation was done with the unions representing those workers.
The tripartite partners of the ILO after the event