FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Greatest Assets – Our People

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Fiji’s Greatest Assets – Our People

FHTA, 20 May 2022 – They are the ones with the biggest smiles when you disembark the plane at Nadi International Airport or when you are checking into any of the many accommodation providers across the country.

They are the usually burly porters who lift your bags with ease onto their trolleys with beaming smiles and booming welcomes, and they are the housekeeping staff with flowers tucked behind ears who sing as they clean and refresh your rooms or move around the many resort functions areas.

They are the shy support staff wiping down tables and chairs when guests leave to make way for the next lot of guests and they are the ones happily calling out their “bula” while tending to general maintenance or trimming trees & gardens when you walk past.

They are Fiji and tourism’s greatest resource. They are our valuable and important tourism workers.

When the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns gripped Fiji, we shared the anxiety and suffering of our workers as a consequence, and as tourism now moves from a slow but steady reopening to fully operational in the next few months; ensuring worker rights and conditions are recognized as a key element in the industry’s return is more important than many might appreciate.

Hence the consistent efforts by the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) to continue with discussions commenced many years ago to recognize the importance of genuine good faith bargaining and providing a standard Collective Agreement (CA) as a minimum baseline for the tourism industry.

Earlier this week the FHTA HR/IR Sub Committee was thrilled to finally have such a document agreed to with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed off with the main workers union.

This marked the culmination of years of lengthy discussions, the collation of ongoing changes to employment legislation and the reviewing of many separate appendices and addendums being finally included into a single document that would provide a template and guideline for management staff and workers in hotels and resorts, regardless of size, with the first homogenous document of hospitality-specific positions, employment terms and conditions.

The milestone event is not just a benefit for FHTA members.

It provides a more widely accepted understanding of employee working conditions and provides clearer progression or career pathways for employees in the industry to aspire to.

As well, it recognizes the many different levels within employee categories that are usually only relevant to accommodation providers that are invariably further differentiated by property size, location and even whether they are an island, remote or mainland based.

It has been an extremely long and complicated process that required working with the Union representatives, the Ministry of Employment, law firms for legal opinions and FHTA’s many members to gain all their respective insights.

Wage rates, benefits and additional conditions may be further negotiated by individual employers over and above the document’s guidelines and it is hoped that in sharing this agreement widely, improved employment conditions and rising productivity levels become preferred by-products that in turn lift the industry’s product and service offerings.

As the Fijian economy recovers lost ground and the industry moves back into its usual frenetic pace with visitor arrivals moving surprisingly quickly into pre-COVID levels, the signing of the MOU comes at an opportune time for recognizing the importance of our people and the central role they play in this industry.

With the many segments that exist within the industry to cater for the wide product offering Destination Fiji offers, the accommodation providers have the lion’s share of employees in an industry that employs 130,000 people both directly and indirectly

And while we cannot treat all businesses in a specific sector as similar, equally profitable and therefore equally capable of providing the standard annual pay rises; we know the agreement provides much-needed clarity on previously ambiguous clauses and an improved understanding and recognition of intake and skill levels for the more appropriate remuneration.

A collective agreement can articulate work conditions, annual leave, working hours, overtime rates, holiday and evening work, etc, within the scope of, but pay scales and increases are left to individual hotels to remunerate workers fairly and according to skill sets, job descriptions and years of service amongst other role-specific, additional benefits.

We need the industry to develop and grow and are committed to fostering a climate conducive to this in return for great working conditions, higher wages and career paths, we know many employers want commitment, efficiency and productivity.

It might not always be easy to make everyone happy all the time, but if happy workers equal happy visitors in our business, then we believe we’re on the right track.

And we are nothing but happy for every single one of them who turns up to work with their biggest Bula smile.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 20 May 2022)