Bula vinaka and a good evening.

90 years ago, a wonderful company was set up that is now one of the household names of Fijian business.

It exists, of course, to make profits but it also has a wonderful record of service to the Fijian people.

Whether you need a hammer and nails to make something or a mattress to lie on, you can find it at a Manubhai store. So the company provides the nation with its hardware needs during the day and then puts it to bed at night on a Manubhai mattress made in Ba.

It also provides more than 700 ordinary Fijians with jobs. Which is why I’m delighted to be here tonight to honour the best of you by presenting the annual Manubhai Awards.

My Fellow Fijians,

I want to address a few words directly to Manubhai employees and through them to the rest of the nation’s workers.

You will have all heard me say that having achieved equal opportunity for all in Fiji, we now need to take our beloved nation to the next level. To educate more of our people and provide them with skills. To work harder and smarter to improve our economy and fulfill our vision of Fiji becoming a modern nation state.

And my Government intends to do so by strengthening the grand partnership we have with employers and workers to move Fiji forward together.

This is a government that is on the side of the workers, doing things to actually improve their conditions rather than just talking about it. This is a government that understands how to take into consideration and balancing all factors, such as the rights of workers, encouraging new investment, sustaining jobs, giving opportunity to make profits, creating new jobs, while ensuring working conditions and living conditions improve.

Just on Thursday – 3 days ago – my government introduced and passed a new law that will significantly improve the amount payable under workers compensation. So if you have an accident at work, the compensation amount that you will now receive under the workers compensation act will be more than double then what it was before Thursday. This amount had not been changed for over 21 years.

In the event of anyone being killed at work, the amount of compensation more than doubles from $24,000 to $50,000. In the event of disability from an accident at work the amounts have increased to almost $70,000.

Earlier this year, we increased the FNPF contributions of employers to 10 per cent while leaving the workers contribution at 8 per cent, which means more money for you when you retire. More peace of mind.

And part of our education revolution gives workers the opportunity to improve their skills in a variety of disciplines at our new network of technical colleges. Giving you all an incentive to learn. To give you a better opportunity to earn.

We of course are providing free education for your children and families and free medicine, free water, subsidized bus fares and electricity for those earning below a particular income level.

The opposition members including some big name trade unionists have no idea how a modern economy works but we do. They don’t understand how to balance all considerations.

We all have to work together – as one nation, as one people, as Fijians. Government, employers and workers – to increase our productivity. Produce more by working harder to grow our national cake so that everyone can get a bigger slice.

And that is what you are already doing at RC Manubhai in a company that is partnering with all of you and the Government to grow the national cake. And to take the Fijian Made brand to the rest of the world.

As I said on Thursday night when I launched the new Trade Framework, we must redouble our export effort. To sell more of our goods and services. To earn the income we need to spread the benefits of prosperity to as many of our fellow Fijians as possible, and especially the disadvantaged.

Many of you are already part of that campaign as employees of a company that is selling products to our island neighbours and is now exploring new horizons. By achieving internationally-recognised standards of quality through the ISO Certification you received last week, Manubhai is poised to extend its exports to the wider world, starting with Australia and New Zealand. And I can assure you that in this effort, you will have the Government’s full support.

My Fellow Fijians,

Manubhai has a great history but an even greater future ahead of it. It is already an icon of Fijian business. But I see it as one of the main standard bearers of our effort to make the Fijian Made brand a byword for quality and consistency throughout the world.

Only last Saturday, I had the pleasure to open the company’s new factory in Ba that arose from the ashes of the one that burned down a couple of years ago.

I went into great detail then about the history of the Patel family, that gave rise to the Manubhai Group, as an example to the Fijian people of what can be achieved through enterprise and hard work.

I don’t need to repeat that story here because as Manubhai workers, you will already know it. But I again want to say on behalf of the Fijian people how much we value your contribution and that of the Patel family to the Fiji we are now building together.

As Manubhai employees, you will also know the high standards that the company sets in the way of customer service, integrity and service to the community.

As corporate citizens go, Manubhai is one of Fiji’s best. Its commitment to sport includes sponsorship for the Rugby World Cup, the Escort Shield rugby competition, the Fiji Football Association, the Fiji International Golf tournament, basketball and snooker.

It also contributes to all manner of charities – including the Save the Children Trust – and supports a number of schools. And as you all know, when a Manubhai worker is in trouble, the company is there to assist. Whether it is sending someone overseas for medical treatment or helping them rebuild their homes after a natural disaster.

You can be all very proud to work for a company that sets such high standards. Never forget that you are all representatives of a great company with a wonderful history and that you are also serving your fellow Fijians.

Those of you who are receiving awards tonight represent the very best of achievement within the Group over the past 12 months. You deserve your place in the spotlight. But I also want to pay tribute to the entire 700 staff and even if you will not receive an award. Whether you are a manager, work in customer service or the company’s factories, you have all made the RC Manubhai Group what it is today. So take a bow and give yourselves a big round of applause.

My Fellow Fijians, it’s been a big day with the wonderful game of rugby across at the ANZ Stadium this afternoon. And I am sure you are all looking forward to enjoying the evening and catching up with colleagues and friends.

There’s an old saying that any company is only as good as its workers and that is certainly true of the Manubhai Group.

Thank you once again on behalf of the nation for all your hard work. Congratulations to the winners and I wish you all the very best.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.