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Opening Address at the Inaugural 2019 LAWASIA Employment Law Forum

January 25, 2019       Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa, Denarau

The Representatives and Members of the LAWASIA Council;
The Representative and Member of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, Mr. Sunil Dhjaya Bandara  Abeyaratne;
The Honorable Justice of the Supreme Court of Fiji, Mr. Suresh Chandra;
The President of the Fiji Law Society, Ms. Laurel Vaurasi;
Lawyers and Members of the Legal Fraternity in Fiji;
Lawyers and Members of the Legal Fraternity from India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia and China ;
Distinguished Guests; and
Ladies and Gentlemen

Ni sa bula vinaka, and a very good afternoon to you all.

I deem it a great honour and pleasure to address you on this historical and no doubt, exciting inaugural LAWASIA EMPLOYMENT LAW FORUM held by LAWASIA and co-hosted by the Fiji Law Society.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am so thankful to be invited by the LAWASIA Council to officially open this inaugural LAWASIA Employment Forum this afternoon.

On behalf of the Fijian Government and all my fellow Fijians, I am most pleased to join you in this important forum and to encourage you to further interact and develop your knowledge and understanding of employment laws and the issues associated with industrial relations as they impact on our fast-paced growing respective economies. 

My pleasure is indeed heightened by the fact that I have had the privilege of serving as the Minister for Employment, Industrial Relations and Productivity in 2015 and worked very closely with the International Labour Organisation in aligning Fiji’s Employment Laws to International standards.

Ladies and gentlemen, I understand that there is still much work to be done but suffice to say that Fiji recognises the importance and relevance of Employment Laws which is a facet of Industrial Relations that is constantly subject to change as the dynamics of the world in which we live in, keeps changing. Therefore, our employment laws and the consistent application of such laws must be timely and relevant to enable all relevant stakeholders to fairly address the international trends of employment related issues.

LAWASIA together with the Fiji Law Society in co-hosting this forum realizes the need to educate ourselves to enable us to better understand and appreciate the laws with their inherent procedures and processes  associated with and relevant to the application of employment laws in other fields and jurisdictions.  I note from the programme that Migrant Labour Issues is to be addressed during your opening session.  With Fiji’s Look North Policy, we have further opened our borders to Asia in particular to China.

Indeed, the Fiji Government has committed itself to China’s Road and Belt initiative which has witnessed a significant increase in migrant workers not only from China but also from other parts of Asia.  Therefore, I believe it is essential that the rights of migrant workers and obligations of employers be better understood and appreciated.

Fiji is no stranger to the numerous challenges and controversies associated with our own migrant worker issues particularly in the fruit picking industry which was established as the Recognized Seasonal Employer Scheme with the Australian and New Zealand Governments.

Undoubtedly, there will be much interesting discussion on this issue and I am certain our present Minister, the Honourable Parveen Bala would be interested in the outcomes.

Ladies and gentlemen, with the exponential growth in technology, Fiji has recognized that to meet the demands of clients and the market, more companies in Fiji and the South Pacific region are engaged and pursuing transnational employment with secondment proposals and dual contract arrangements.

Consequently, our Immigration laws, taxation laws and model employment contracts are at the forefront of this development and a review of these laws may be prudent and imminent to be up to date, but more importantly, relevant with the emerging trends.

Indeed, the growth of technology has raised social media and IT employment issues raising the rights of employees and employers.

Fiji has come a long way from its inherited colonial labour legislations and with the Employment Relations Act 2007 Fiji is committed to ensuring that the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers are promoted, protected and preserved.

Recently in Fiji, the Employment Relations Act 2007 was amended to include recent global trends such as the right to Family Care leave and the right to Paternity Leave and Maternity leave is now increased to 98 days, to name a few.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am reliably informed that these new developments will be the subject of discussions and debate in this forum today and tomorrow.

Although these amendments have been long overdue for Fiji as seen in modern world trends relating to employee benefits in promoting harmonious relationship with employers, these issues are now being addressed by all stakeholders to improve outcomes.

These rights also recognise the importance we place on gender roles and with the inclusion of paternity leave in particular we recognize that it is not just women employees who need time off work to care for their new born children. In this regard, I would like to add that future generations will be exposed to challenges and opportunities to work across national and cross-national jurisdictions as world trends demand grow in expertise, experience and knowledge.

Ladies and gentlemen, changes of this nature do impact upon the social and economic fabric of every country and its people. As such we must embrace change and accept that laws and associated legislations are established to safeguard the rights of employees in the private and public sectors both nationally and globally.  Fiji has experienced unprecedented economic growth for the past 9 years.

Apart from prudent financial management, this growth is also due to the conducive environment created by the Fijian Government for business, investments and employment of our people.

Under the Fijian Employment Relations Act, men and women have the right to equal pay for equal work, a work environment that is safe and free from violence and harassment, where both men and women can take leave with pay from work to take care of their families and attend to emergencies when the need arises and most importantly the right to a work environment that is free from discrimination on the grounds of personal characteristics or circumstances, including race, culture, ethnic or social origin, colour, place of origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, birth, primary language, economic or social or health status, disability, age, religion, conscience, marital status or pregnancy. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I am glad and equally proud to say that, whilst we are not perfect, we are well on our way to creating an employment environment that is conducive to our continued economic growth.

At this juncture, I commend the hard work and effort by the FIJI LAW SOCIETY and the commitment by LAWASIA in bringing the first ever LAWASIA conference to Fiji.

I note with great interest the caliber of speakers both local and from other jurisdictions overseas and am most appreciative and grateful for I am quite confident that they will greatly assist us with their respective wealth of experience and knowledge on Employment and Industrial related Issues and I have no doubt that the forum will have robust discussions on emerging employment issues.

To the distinguished resource personnel and participants alike I would like to thank you most sincerely on behalf of the Fiji Law Society for your attendance at this important LAWASIA Employment Forum which I consider to be most timely and apt.

For our overseas visitors welcome once again, thank you for gracing our shores with your presence and I hope that you can take some time out to experience the warm Fijian hospitality that our beloved nation is renowned for.  Please get to know our people and by all means enjoy your stay and I wish you safe journeys back to your home countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Government and all Fijians, I thank you one and all and wish you well and every success in your deliberations.

Vinaka vakalevu, Danyavaad, Thank you and may Almighty God bless you all.