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Na Vunivalu na Turaga na Tui Naloto;
Na Turaga Talatala;
Government Officials;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I’d like to begin by wishing everyone a very happy New Year. I’m very glad you can welcome 2018 with the comfort, security and convenience of reliable electric power.

Today, we are officially opening a rural electrification project that will supply 30 households in the Navuca settlement with affordable access to electricity. This is a big day for Navuca and another step on the path of progress my Government has forged for Fiji and the Fijian people. I never lose sight of the fact that progress is not just in the big projects; it is in these small steps that make life better for all our communities. Together, they make for a very big journey.

We’ve grown our economy every year for the past eight years, and it is our duty to transform that prosperity into real development that makes a real difference in the lives of people. That is what the Fijian Constitution demands, that is what the Fijian people deserve and that is the spirit that has driven my Government’s ambitious agenda for development.

It takes months and years of planning and effort to make development a reality. It takes bold and innovative thinking, sound fiscal management, investment in infrastructure, long hours and steady persistence. And, most importantly, it takes teamwork. So, as Prime Minister, I would like to extend a very big vinaka vakalevu to those Fijians who gave their time, energy and know-how to making this project happen.

This project is part of an enormous programme of rural electrification my Government is funding throughout the country. This year alone we’ve allocated 42.6 Million Dollars to electrify homes in rural areas across Fiji.

My fellow Fijians, I am a father, and I am a grandfather. I have great hope for the world that my children, my grandchildren and all of our young people will one day inherit. But we can’t secure that future only as individuals. We must stand together, only then can we realise the great potential of our beloved Fiji.

Nation building – like most of everything in life – is a team sport, and Team Fiji needs team players. We’ve made Fiji what it is today as a team; because we’ve stood united in our vision for what Fiji can achieve. We’ve put our stock in our potential, we’ve put our money in development and we’ve put opportunity in the lives of ordinary people.

It is because of our teamwork that, here in Navuca, you now have access to electricity. You’ve all been made safer at all hours of the day. You can now access an entire new world of possibilities – you can stay active after the sun has set, your children can study late into the night, you can spend more time at home with your families and you no longer must rely on inefficient diesel generators or lantern lamps to keep the lights on.

That same spirit of teamwork has carried our economy to eight straight years of growth. It brought us our very first Olympic Gold medal. It brought our nation back from the devastation of Cyclone Winston.

It carried us to global leadership – a small island nation at the helm of critical international negotiations. And that spirit of team work – every day – is making life better for ordinary Fijians, from all walks of life, everywhere in Fiji. It has brought us free education, subsidised bus fares for school children, free medicine and subsidised and connectivity to water and electricity. We have introduced new laws to improve the working environment and conditions for employees and introduced and increased the minimum wage for unskilled workers. Our commitment to teamwork has brought us everything we’ve achieved, it will lead us through whatever challenges we have yet to face and it will carry us to whatever heights we have yet to reach.

My fellow Fijians, in this spirit, I want to make clear that I want all Fijians to share in the prosperity we are creating, and that includes the rights of employees to press for better pay and working conditions.

But the recent walkout of employees from Air Terminal Services was a poor example of teamwork because it not only put the livelihoods of their colleagues at risk but other Fijians who are working for various companies at the airport and within the wider tourism and air transport industry.

We have laws that allow employees to strike if they cannot get satisfaction at the bargaining table. Those laws lay out procedures and timelines that everyone must adhere to. In fact, adherence to such procedures goes to the practical making and implementation of the rule of law. This did not happen in the ATS case when some employees suddenly left their posts leaving hundreds of passengers, mostly those visiting our shores, and essential airport services unattended.

But I was proud to see ATS staff and staff from Fiji Airways, CAAF, AFL, Air NZ and from the tourism industry step up and put in the hours to ensure the smooth running of Fiji’s main port of entry. That effort was testament to the spirit of commitment, dedication and teamwork that has built the Fiji we know today, and it speaks to their care for their country and their fellow Fijians.

I’m also glad to see ATS employees are returning to work and accepting the consequences of their actions.

Those on the job know – better than any – that when you are working, people depend on you. The men and women by your side depend on you to work with them to get the job done. Your family depends on you to put food on the table and provide for them. Your colleagues depend on you not to disrupt the businesses that they depend on. And your country depends on you as well, to do your part to help Team Fiji, to care for your fellow citizens and build up your nation into something better.

So I ask all Fijians to think carefully for themselves. When you are on the job, you need to protect yourself from those who would use you to help themselves or only benefit themselves. You need to think for yourselves; don’t buy into false promises from people such as high earning trade union officials and opportunistic politicians who aren’t in your position and do not understand your situation. Because if you walk away from your job or violate the law, they will go back to their comfortable homes, in their nice cars and to their own pay checks, while you are left out in the cold or in this blistering heat.

There are many people, many cheap politicians among them, who aren’t interested in you and your well-being, but who are interested in making headlines and building a campaign platform for this year’s elections.

It is these trade unionists and politicians who have influenced the striking ATS employees, and are preventing them from going back to work. It is indeed sad that as a result of such influence, the ATS employees are forgetting their obligation to their spouses, children, their family members, communities and the nation.

We’ve seen such tactics by some trade unionists and politicians too many times before, and I have no doubt we will see much of it again in the months ahead. We should not allow employees to be used by people with ulterior motives to breach the law and to prejudice the well-being and the best interests of the workers and all Fijians. We should not allow ordinary people to be used as tools for political gain. And we should not allow that behaviour to stall our great journey forward.

This is all bigger than any one dispute or walkout. This is about Fiji, this is about our economy, and this is about the well-being of our citizens. This is about the best interests of hard working people, all over Fiji, who depend on one another to show up and do the work that sustains our economy.

My Government will stand by our recipe for success. The recipe that has guided our economy to prosperity and given unprecedented opportunity to ordinary Fijians. We will stand by our employees – all of our employees– who put in the time to build the new Fiji. And we will stand by the rule of law, set out by our Constitution that puts the Fijian people at the heart of everything we do.

Again, I wish you all a very happy New Year. I’m glad to see this development delivered to your community. Use it well, and enjoy the immense benefits of electric power. My Government will continue our work to electrify communities across Fiji, alongside all of our critical work to build up this nation for the benefit of every Fijian.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications