2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Fiji
|Publisher||International Trade Union Confederation|
|Publication Date||9 June 2007|
|Cite as||International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Fiji, 9 June 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca3011.html [accessed 24 May 2013]|
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
It remains relatively easy for employers to dismiss trade union activists. A gold mine closed down after its employees went on strike, leaving 1,700 people out of work. On 5 December the Fijian military seized power in a coup d'etat, promptly declared a state of emergency, and promulgated broad restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression. Public protests were banned.
Trade union rights in law
Freedom of association: Under the Fiji Constitution and the Trade Unions Act, workers have the right to form and join trade unions and they have the right to organise and bargain collectively. The Trade Unions Act requires a minimum of seven people to form a trade union. All unions must be registered with the government. The Act does not apply to the Navy, the Military and Air Service of the Crown, the Royal Fiji Police Force, or the Fiji Prisons Service. Restrictions can be applied in government employment, in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.
Employers are required to recognise a union for collective bargaining if more than half of their employees have joined it. While they should also recognise minority unions, they normally fail to do so, and unrecognised unions have little redress except to attempt to achieve 50 per cent membership, and then file appeals to the Ministry of Labour, and ultimately, the courts, to overturn this refusal of their rights.
The Permanent Secretary for Labour has the power to decide on the registration, suspension or cancellation of trade unions, after consultation with the Advisory Committee, which is appointed by the Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations. The Advisory Committee has four members: one from an employers' organisation, one from a workers' organisation, and the other two are "independent". Union expenditure is closely monitored, and unions can have their registration suspended or cancelled if they fail to file required annual financial reports to the Ministry of Labour.
The government also continued a restriction on the key elected office of union Secretary General, under which any individual occupying that position is required to work (or have previously been employed) in the industry or trade with which the union is directly concerned.
Right to strike: The right to strike is recognised for all matters except those relating to trade union recognition. Under the Trade Unions Act, unions are required to give 21 days' notice to the Registrar of Trade Unions (who reports to the Minister of Labour) before putting a strike to the ballot. The strike is allowed if more than 50 per cent of the paid-up members vote in favour. This applies to all unions, in both essential and non-essential industries. With respect to "essential" industries, however, the Trade Disputes Act imposes a further 28 days' notice and organisers must provide the Ministry of Labour with information concerning the date, time and location of the strike, together with a list of participants. The list of "essential" industries claimed by the government remains far more extensive than provided for under ILO convention no. 87, despite ILO recommendations to the government to amend the list.
Ministerial powers: The Minister of Labour has the right to declare existing or proposed strikes unlawful. If he or she does so, the dispute is referred to a Permanent Arbitrator and workers are obliged to return to the workplace. Trade unionists can face criminal charges if they persist with strike action.
Lack of protection in law: There are no provisions requiring the reinstatement of workers who have been sacked for carrying out trade union activities, nor are there provisions prohibiting employers from hiring strike breakers.
Amending the Labour Law – Employment Relations Bill under consideration: The democratic government that was displaced by the December military coup was in the process of reviewing all labour legislation, and had introduced a draft Employment Relations Bill in the Parliament in late June 2006. The Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) has made a comprehensive submission to the government with the assistance of the ILO, and followed that up with testimony to public hearings, parliamentary hearings, and other forums. According to the FTUC, the draft Employment Relations Bill proposed by the government does not comply with key provisions of the ILO's eight core conventions, notably in its provisions on the right to strike. At year end, the government was promising that the new Employment Relations Bill would be passed into law in 2007.
Trade union rights in practice
While the right to organise, collective bargaining, fair labour practices and humane treatment are enshrined in the Fiji Constitution, the Minister of Labour does little to enforce these rights.
Registration of unions by Ministry of Labour slow, overly bureaucratic: The process of registering a trade union can be very slow. The FTUC adds that in some cases, registering a union has taken over a year to complete.
Anti-union employers: Many employers have been known to refuse to recognise trade unions. The police sometimes help employers fight against trade unions, for example by preventing union representatives from entering company premises. Police have also been used very effectively in intimidating workers during strikes and serious industrial disputes. The Ministry of Labour and Industrial Relations, and the Director of Public Prosecution's Office, often call on the police to act swiftly against strikes but do very little to help when employers illegally lock out workers.
Numerous cases of victimisation of workers who show any inclination to join a union are reported to the Ministry each year. The Employment Act Section 59 makes it an offence for an employer to victimise any worker or make it a condition of employment for a worker not to belong to a union. To date, not a single employer has been prosecuted.
Failure to prevent anti-union discrimination: The Ministry of Labour does not protect workers effectively from anti-union discrimination. Further, since there are no laws to protect workers who organise unions in a factory, employers can, and do, fire them.
The Arbitration and High Courts have usually taken the position that reinstatement is not the remedy when employers interfere in union activities and, instead, highlight the employer's loss of trust and confidence in the employee.
Right to strike undermined: The government consistently declares all strikes illegal, even when workers comply with notice provisions to strike and receive endorsement by secret ballot. In past years, trade unionists have been charged in the criminal courts for taking part in strikes declared unlawful.
Unions repressed in the EPZs: Although export processing zones (EPZs) should be subject to the same legislation as the rest of the country, in reality workers who try to organise are subject to illegal and intimidating practices, including the threat of losing their jobs. The FTUC has found it extremely difficult to conclude collective bargaining agreements in the EPZs.
Violations in 2006
Background: In May, multi-party elections returned Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to power. In December, the Fijian Army seized power in a bloodless coup, displacing the elected government of PM Qarase which the military claimed was destabilising Fijian politics by planning to offer a legal amnesty to those involved in a year-2000 coup opposed by Army Commander Frank Bainimarama. The take-over is the fourth coup in the past 20 years in the country.
Emperor Gold Mine ignores union, fires workers: Despite world record gold prices, Australian-owned Emperor Gold Mine in Vatukoula laid off workers, made unilateral changes in conditions of work without consulting the union, and continued to refuse to reinstate or compensate 370 fired workers who continue what is now the world's longest run picket, dating back to 1991. Emperor has refused to pay compensation to those fired strikers, despite rulings by the Fiji Human Rights Commission and a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that they do so.
In April, the company claimed financial losses and fired 300 workers, thereby exacerbating the company's already troubled relationship with its workforce and the Fiji Mine Workers Union. The union held a vote in September to go on strike if management did not meet union demands regarding past and future lay-offs. Over 400 workers walked off the job in late November, protesting unilateral changes in work rosters by management that would threaten workers safety by failing to provide adequate rest in transitions between working day and night shifts. The mine then ceased operations on 5 December, stating that it was no longer economically viable, throwing another 1,700 workers out of work.
As the year ended, a government appointed commission was investigating the situation, and examining claims by the union that there was ample gold still left in the mine which should guarantee continued mining operations.
Ongoing rights' violations at Turtle Island: The dispute at the luxury Turtle Island resort remained unsolved, as resort owner Richard Evanson continued to refuse to recognise the National Union of Hospitality, Catering and Tourism Industries Employees (NUHCTIE) despite a compulsory recognition order.