The Public Service Association (PSA) is appalled and contempt the comments made by the Tonga Chambers of Commerce & Industries (TCCI) yesterday, Friday 03rd May, in the news of radio 89.5 FM regarding the Employment Relation Bill 2013.
It is clear from the comments made by the TCCI that they did not make any attempt at all to read and understand the purpose & contents of the Bill. They still have another week to do that or ask the Ministry of Commerce, Tourism & Labour for extension instead of making unprofessional comments in public. It is also clear from their comments that they do not have any respect at all for the working class people of Tonga including public servants and those paid from the public purse, i.e. members of Parliament, nobles, district & town officers, workers in churches, civil societies & NGOs who will also be subject to this Bill if enacted.
The TCCI claimed that they do not have enough time to make their comments on the Bill. The Ministry is giving 3 weeks for comments to be submitted to them. This is enough time for a professional organization such as TCCI to get their act together. Moreover, this is not the first time this Bill is tabled for comments. This Bill was first drafted in 2006 and extensive consultations were carried out by the Ministry to all parties concerned. The TCCI had objected strongly during those consultations making the same claims that they are doing now. This latest version of the Bill is after the input made by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to improve the Bill. It is now 7 years from the last consultations and the TCCI should have amble time to make their comments on the Bill if they had wanted to.
The TCCI also claimed that this Bill if enacted will affect their businesses and they do not like the trade unions. The PSA, a trade union by nature of operation, implores to the TCCI to read & understand the Bill again, as this legislation will protect their investments. If enacted, nothing will be done without their consent and/or agreement in Good Faith, whether its minimum wages, collective agreements for terms of employment, trade union strikes or employers lockouts, etc. In fact, this Bill will regulate the trade union activities. We got away with our 6.5 weeks peaceful strike action in 2005, the way & time we wanted, because there is no such legislation like this in place and we can go on strike at any time if we want to and the same with all workers in Tonga, except the Army & Police.
In the late 1990s, the Ministry had drafted an Industrial (Employment) Relation Bill and this Bill did not move forward because of the strong opposition from TCCI with the same claims. It is now over 20 years and TCCI and its members should be ready now to embrace this legislation especially in this new democratic era in Tonga.
Tonga is the only country in the Pacific region without an Employment Relation legislation to ensure protection of ALL the working class people in Tonga. Absence of this legislation has led to abuse of workers’ rights by some (not all) employers especially in the business sector. This included under pay of workers; no annual, sick or maternity leave; unfair dismissal; discrimination at work; poor working conditions, sexual harassment, etc. For many years, the TCCI has blocked the enactment of this legislation and the working class people of Tonga have been unfairly abused by employers, both foreign & locally owned businesses.
If we look at the business people in Tonga, especially those who are members of the TCCI, they live in mansions and good houses, they have good salaries, they drive pajeros and expensive cars, they go for holidays overseas with their families, they send their children for education overseas, they dress well & eat good food, party long and hard when it comes to entertainments, and yet they still continue to claim that their business would be affected? If one is in business, the employer must be prepared to invest in the minimum labour standards which will be set with the consent and in Good Faith of the employers & employees organizations and Government taking into account all aspects relating to cost of living, etc. May be this legislation will weed out those greedy investors and ensure that management of business profits is in order and due benefits to the working class people of Tonga is accorded.
The PSA, therefore, call upon the ALL working class people of Tonga, in public, private, church sectors & civil societies, to stand together to ensure that this Bill is enacted.
For more information, please contact the Secretary General of PSA