Response to Ministerial Statement by Minister for Health--Update on COVID-19
Wednesday 27th May 2020
Response to Ministerial Statement by Minister for Health--Update on COVID-19 by Hon. Pio Tikoduadua
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I thank the honourable Minister for his Statement. As we do every time, we applaud our frontline health personnel in the battle against COVID-19.
Last evening we discussed at length and went to great lengths in emphasising why is it important that in our battle against this pandemic, we should not lose focus on the fact that while this fight is important for Fiji’s future for the recovery and advancement of Fiji socially, economically and politically, it shouldn’t be done by neglecting or sacrificing the integral components of our health and medical care system.
Mr Speaker, firstly on COVD-19 itself, we are lucky that both good fortune and sheer hard work by our front line health and other personnel , and timely strategies put in place by government have resulted in what seems to be now containment of this pandemic to only 18 citizens – a vast majority of who have recovered.
All of us hope and pray that it stays this way as it may well be one of the prerequisites to us joining the Trans-Tasman Bubble to start reviving our very badly hit tourism sector. All of us hope that happens sooner rather than later for the sake of our many thousands of unemployed workers in the tourism related sectors.
But we are worried that what may become the only blot on this plan is our rate of actual testing of our citizens despite having the only WHO accredited testing facility in the region and the state of our public health and medical facilities.
We have talked about these things in the past, as well as different interpretations of gatherings and social distancing in different places. Those controversies will go on for a bit longer.
But we genuinely hope and pray that given our health care fragilities, we do not succumb to a possible second wave of this pandemic – which is still crippling the world.
Mr Speaker in this respect, we expected the honourable Minister to inform Parliament on how much of the $40 million allocated in the COVID-19 Response Budget for four months has been used so far and for what specific purpose.
Having said that, I go back to Government’s social responsibility in this crisis. Like I said many thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Thousands more have limited employment in the sense that either their hours and rates of wages have been reduced. In many cases employees have suffered both pay cuts and reduced hours. We expect the Employment Minister to address this issue.
On Monday, due to COVID-19 and non-operations, over 700 Fiji Airways workers were what I would call summarily dismissed – that is what their story of pain and misery tell us. They weren’t given any notice. One is only dismissed in this manner if he or she has seriously breached employment terms and conditions.
Now I believe this happened because Fiji Airways wanted to prevent the employees and their unions from going to Court to restrain the company from taking such action.
This unfair dismissal also allowed Fiji Airways to get away without paying workers 3 months’ salary plus two weeks for each year of service as park of redundancy that was in the Collective Agreement between the airline and the unions. Ad such action and breach being committed by a company that is 51% owned by Government.
Therefore Mr Speaker, aren’t these workers and many thousands of others victims of COVID-19 and deserve our attention and assistance?
We cannot be compromising the health and well-being because their inability to afford basic health and medical care. That is why last evening’s response by the honourable Minister that the focus right now is fighting COVID-19 is ridiculous.
The many thousands of unemployed workers and their families who now cannot afford anything have a constitutional right to decent health care that our public hospitals must provide. And that is why it is important to vastly improve our facilities and healthcare delivery.
I therefore ask the Minister to stop being lackadaisical about this aspect and always keep this in mind when taking about COVID-19.
This is what humanitarianism is all about.