Fiji government criticised for employment conditions forcing Covid-19 vaccination

The Fijian government's Covid-19 response continues to be slammed as case numbers continue to climb.

Workers rights advocates and legal experts believe it is unconstitutional for Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to give workers an ultimatum to get the vaccine or lose their jobs.

There are now more than 9000 active cases in isolation -and 56 deaths linked to the current outbreak that started in April.

Workers rights advocates and legal experts in Fiji have labelled the government's Covid-19 response as being "more of a fire brigade approach" and that it is not in control in the fight against the deadly virus.

The situation in Fiji remains dire with 873 cases recorded yesterday.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress represents 70 percent of the country's working population.

General Secretary Felix Anthony was surprised by the announcement that unvaccinated Fijians risked losing their jobs - as the government had not consulted them.

"This directive violates the Employment Relations Act, the constitution of this country ... this sets a dangerous precedence that the government makes it a condition of employment."

That was echoed by employment lawyer Filimoni Vosarogo.

"The new laws will cause people to vaccinate not because they want to but because they would not want to lose their jobs or fear the loss of security. These new laws run the high risk of being struck down in my view for its discriminatory slant against people who wish to exercise choice, out of their convictions and beliefs."

Fiji Medical Association president Dr Basharat Munshi said in a pandemic where lives were at stake, the population's right to life and health superseded any individual's rights.

"There are consequences of not getting vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated you will pose a risk in your workplace, to the population at large. If you do not wish to get vaccinated against your choice, you may not be able to work."

Fiji's main opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) leader Bill Gavoka said that could not justify the government's violation of people's right to choose.

"We don't believe the government should have a role to impose such conditions on employment. Workers have collective agreement, they have context, and if there's going to be any change to the terms and conditions of employment then proper negotiations and collective bargaining process should take place," Felix Anthony said.

Meanwhile, more than half of the target population - 370,000 have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, while almost 70,000 Fijians are fully vaccinated.

It comes as help from New Zealand is set to arrive.

"The ambulance service is stretched for resource and particularly infrastructure being equipment and vehicle so that's what we're prioritising. This large amount of Covid-19 cases would be a huge undertaking for any health system, their amount of confirmed cases is now exceeding 1 percent of the population."

Four emergency vehicles, PPE, defibrillators and warm clothing will be sent to Fiji later this week.