Changes in the law spark widespread anger

Prof Biman Prasad. Picture: FT FILE

Changes in the law to label COVID-19 an act of God to “provide a more realistic work environment and conditions to ensure sustainability of jobs and businesses” has sparked widespread anger among worker representatives and social media users.

Leading the charge is the National Federation Party and Fiji Trades Union Congress, who have questioned Government’s definition of COVID-19 as an “act of God” in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (2020).

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, NFP leader Prof Biman Prasad said Australia’s motion for investigations by the World Health Organization into the origin of the virus challenged the notion of COVID-19 being an “act of God”.

FTUC national secretary Felix Anthony said labelling the crisis an “act of God” was “sacrilegious”.

“This pandemic is manmade and China is not located in heaven,” Mr Anthony said.

“The lockdowns were imposed by governments, not God.”

While speaking on the Bill on Thursday, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the amendment would “provide a more realistic work environment and conditions to ensure sustainability of jobs and businesses and provides clarification on the meaning of ‘an act of God’ during the COVID-19 period.”

The A-G also said the Bill clarified that “an act of God” included a pandemic, as declared by the World Health Organization.

In response, NFP leader Prof Prasad said Australia had moved a motion at the WHO for an investigation.

He said while it was a legal term, he was not sure “whether the idea of act of God in this Bill is a correct one”.

Mr Anthony said Government’s focus was again on employers and not the most affected, the employees.

“Government has moved to assist businesses with a reduction in FNPF contributions and other tax incentives, and now the reduction of Paternity and Family Care leave, and finally decided to blame God for the pandemic,” he said.

“This is outrageous. Section 24 of the Employment Relations Act sets out an employer’s duty to provide work unless the worker has broken his or her contract, the contract is frustrated or the performance of the contract is prevented by an act of God.”

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