FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Empowering our Tourism Workers

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Empowering our Tourism Workers

FHTA, 5 October 2023 – It has been a long wait entailing lengthy discussions, often fraught with long discourses on each group’s justifications for views and interrupted as it was by deep uncertainty during the pandemic closure. But both groups have finally agreed with the outcomes.

The recently finalized Collective Agreement between the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) and the National Union of Catering, Hospitality, and Tourism Industries Employees (NUCHTIE) is a momentous achievement for Fiji’s tourism sector.

This landmark agreement symbolizes a pivotal shift towards creating a fair, transparent, and harmonious working environment for the dedicated workforce powering the nation’s hospitality and tourism industry.

Our tourism industry has long been recognized as a vital contributor to the nation’s economy and Fiji’s global branding that has seen our vibrant little nation in the South Pacific become renowned as a friendly island paradise, along with other giant local brands like Fiji Airways, Fiji Water, Pure Fiji and the Flying Fijians, amongst a host of others.

From the Mamanuca Islands to Taveuni, from Yasawa Islands to Rakiraki, and all the way up North and to the outlying islands of the Lau Group; our breathtaking landscapes, rich culture, and warm hospitality have attracted travellers worldwide.

Behind this thriving industry are the hardworking individuals who dedicate themselves to ensuring visitors experience the magic of Fiji. Our tourism workers, often unsung heroes, play an indispensable role in shaping the country’s reputation as a top tourist destination.

From the melodious ukulele jams at airport arrivals to the hearty “BULA!” at the many resorts sprinkled around the 333 islands; our tourism staff are the crucial pieces in the giant tourism machinery.

This has not always been the case and many from our industry have left to seek ‘better’ opportunities abroad through worker schemes, leaving a sizable gap in the local workforce and, at times, even their families.

Recognising the significance of improving the lives of these tourism workers is essential for several compelling reasons.

Firstly a thriving tourism industry translates to a stable and growing economy. By retaining tourism workers within Fiji and treating them all fairly, the country can ensure a continuous flow of skilled labour, contributing to sustainable economic growth.

Also, tourism workers are not just employees; they are our ad-hoc ambassadors. Their interactions with our visitors shape the perception of the nation and its people. When workers are content and happy, they can better convey the warmth and authenticity of Fiji’s culture to tourists. And where better to spread this infectious joy than in the very nation where “Happiness comes naturally”!

Many tourism workers have deep ties to the surrounding communities simply because many of them come from there. This encourages participation in community activities that see a rise in participation and economic uplifting for all.

The Collective Agreement can be likened to a roadmap that guides the relationships between employers and employees in Fiji’s tourism industry.

Its overarching purpose is to provide a comprehensive framework that addresses both parties’ rights, responsibilities, and expectations.
By doing so, it also aims to create an environment where tourism workers can thrive, prosper, and ultimately utilise better staff retention opportunities.

One of its central goals is to ensure that tourism industry employees are treated fairly and equitably across the board. It sets out clear guidelines for wage structures, working hours, and overtime compensation.

The CA strongly emphasises safety protocols, provisions for medical benefits, and mechanisms for addressing workplace hazards, ensuring that employees can perform their roles confidently and safely.

It also stipulates reasonable working hours and guarantees employees’ right to rest days, time off, and public holidays impacts an industry that does not sleep and rostering provisions that address the many categories of resort types and resort locations – often in remote, rural or island settings, with workforce sizes that can vary dependent on tourism seasonality demands. All these require a flexibility that is only seen in this industry.

This helps create a wider understanding of the different categories of employers and prevents worker burnout and unfair treatment while fostering a work-life balance.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this Collective Agreement is its unwavering commitment to fairness and transparency. It is not merely a document written in legalese; it is a pact built on trust and mutual respect.

The terms and conditions are crafted to be easily understood by both employers and employees, eliminating ambiguity and fostering an environment of openness.

It is important to note that the journey to the finalisation of this groundbreaking CA was neither short nor easy.

It was the culmination of over 10 years of persistent efforts, consultations, and negotiations that were strongly pursued by the tourism industry’s pressing need for reform and improvement.

We acknowledge with great appreciation, those who helped to pave the groundwork for these negotiations well before the pandemic struck, endured through the chaos of the pandemic’s impact, and continued in the post-COVID era.

The CA not only addresses the immediate needs of the workforce but also lays the groundwork for constructive and ongoing labour-management relations.

By providing clear guidelines and dispute resolution mechanisms, it fosters an environment where conflicts can be more easily resolved amicably and provides tourism employers with an agreement template that will serve as the minimum standard and guideline for the industry.

A Collective Agreement is a significant step towards ensuring employers and employees have a clear understanding of their roles while providing equity and equal bargaining power, with clear opportunities for worker’s career growth.

Additionally, improved working conditions, job security, and supportive work cultures are crucial elements that can keep tourism workers motivated and dedicated to their roles. FHTA recognizes that these are all important elements and will be conducting awareness sessions through webinars for its members to provide clarity and understanding on how these agreements should be interpreted.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 5 October 2023)