At what age should civil servants in Fiji retire? Sixty was the norm, then fifty-five, then a protest and back to sixty, and now another protest and to fifty-five. Many men and women are in their prime of experience and responsibility in their late fifties so I reckon retirement age ought to be optional. Think of teachers, doctors, nurses, CEOs. That means if you were born in April 1954 you will have to retire in April 2009. Is that correct?
Appeals Court orders retirement age at 55 11/03/2009
Fiji’s Court of Appeal in Suva has quashed an earlier decision by the High Court and ruled in favour of the State to lower the retirement age of public servants from 60 to 55.
The Fijian Teachers Association (FTA) and the Fiji Public Service Association (FPSA) had won this case against the State in March 2007 for public servants to retire at 60.
The case was then heard before Justice Filimoni Jitoko.
The State, represented by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Attorney General’s Chambers appealed this decision.
It argued that the PSC had the Constitutional right to make regulations for the reduction in retirement age of public servants and that it had met the requirement of fairness and legitimate expectations by conducting proper consultations with the representatives of the public servants.
It further stated that the compulsory reduction of the retirement age from 60 to 55 years was not discriminatory and therefore, did not breach the provisions of section 38(2) of the Constitution.
Today, the three Court of Appeal judges – Justice John Byrnes, Justice Andrew Bruce and Justice Izaz Khan allowed the appeal and quashed Justice Jitoko’s earlier decision.
In his decision, Justice Bruce said: “The rejection of the PSC’s argument by the trial judge (Jitoko) was without foundation because he had no evidence upon which he could decide the extent to which the public servants would have served 30 years”.
“Secondly, there was no evidence to determine the extent to which the public servants would have accumulated enough FNPF funds at 55 to retire and start their own businesses”.
The three judges said Justice Jitoko did not give sufficient weight to the evidence of PSC Permanent Secretary Taina Tagicakibau and Fiji Teacher’s Union General Secretary Agni Deo Singh in relation to the advantages which would be gained by the reduction in the retirement age from 60 to 55.
Tagicakibau in her affidavit of September 26, 2007 said the Government would save $79,519,530 when the reduction in retirement age policy came into effect from January 1 this year. She added: “If posts were filled selectively according to areas of need, the government would save up to $10,455,610 when this policy is put into effect”.
In his affidavit of September 21, 2007, Singh said by the age of 55 years, civil servants would have worked for at least 30 years and would have met all obligations in relation to their children's education.
He said: “There are over 2000 graduates who are unemployed. 800 of these are qualified teachers. A large number of these 800 qualified teachers would have been trained by government at Advance College of Education and Lautoka Teachers College or at the USP on a scholarship”.
“A large number of these unemployed graduates are sons and daughters of poor people who would have taken loans for education of their children Government employment becomes the last and sometimes the only venue for employment because of the limited opportunity for employment in the private sector.”
The three judges said Tagicakibau and Singh were not cross-examined on their affidavits and in their view, the duo’s evidence should have been accepted by Justice Jitoko.
“If he had done so, it would not have been possible for him to conclude as he did.”
The Court also ordered that the two unions, FTA and FPSA, to pay court costs of $3,500.