Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 21:11 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Fiji

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Fiji, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea6620f2.html [accessed 23 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 849,000
Capital: Suva
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Commodore Bainimarama's government continues to restrict trade union freedoms to maintain control of the archipelago.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

Many excessive restrictions exist despite recent improvements. Freedom of association is secured in the Constitution, and the Employment Relations Promulgation (ERP) 2007 adequately protects workers against anti-union discrimination. However, the Registrar has discretionary powers to refuse to register a union with an "undesirable" name, as well as to cancel the registration of a union in cases provided by the law. While the ERP promotes and encourages collective bargaining, the right to strike is limited. A strike can not be called in relation to union recognition, and must always be approved by more than 50% of the paid-up members. In addition, unions are required to give 21 days' notice prior to calling a normal strike, and 49 days in "essential" industries. Furthermore, the names of all the strike participants must be communicated to the Ministry of Labour, which also has the right to declare an existing or proposed strike unlawful, in which case the dispute is referred to arbitration. Both the Ministry and the employers can also impose compulsory arbitration when the strike is not considered to be in the public interests or could jeopardise the economy. Trade unionists can face criminal charges and risk imprisonment if they persist with strike action.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: Commodore Frank Bainimarama heads a civilian government that has no democratic legitimacy, having resulted from a military coup in 2006. Although elections had initially been promised in 2009, the government has announced its intention to remain in power until 2014 and perhaps longer. The government legislates by decrees which continue to restrict human rights and to repress dissenting voices. Increases in the cost of food, water and energy have caused new record levels of poverty.

Forbidden to challenge government decisions: Decree numbers 9, 10 and 25 of 2009 and decree no. 14 of 2010, forbid trade unions from challenging in court a decision taken by the government or a government controlled body. The UITA (International union of food workers and their affiliates) and the Fiji Trade Union Congress cite the case of a poorly planned closure of a sugar factory owned by the Fiji Sugar Corporation in the Ba district as a result of poor management. No subsistence provisions were made to lessen the social impact of this closure and soldiers intimidated workers in several factories. Given the laws mentioned above, trade unions and workers were not able to challenge this decision in the Courts.

A job or a role in the trade union: Civil servants who occupy a position of responsibility within their trade union had to choose between their job and their role in the trade union. For example, the Minister of Education informed a high level member of the Department of Education who had been appointed as head of Second Level Education in Fiji but who was also Deputy General Secretary of the Fijian Teacher's Union, that she would have to choose between her position within the Department or within the trade union. Trade union involvement can also have a bearing on the renewal of civil servants contracts.

Severe restrictions on collective bargaining in the public sector: The government has modified the law to severely restrict the opportunities for collective bargaining in the public sector and to award itself the right to unilaterally modify the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants. It forbids any Court challenge of a decision taken by the government or by Fiji's Public Service Committee in relation to the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants, including their remuneration.

Recourse to individual contracts to limit collective bargaining: While the law does not promote individual contracts, in practice they are common and are promoted to the detriment of collective bargaining. Employers tend to offer advantageous packages to new employees, particularly graduates and skilled personnel in key industries as a means of promoting individual contracts. This practice greatly reduces the possibilities for collective bargaining and weakens the trade unions.

Public emergency regulations seriously infringe trade union freedom: Public emergency regulations adopted in December 2006 remain in place. They seriously infringe fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of assembly. In particular it allows military personnel to take up positions at the workplace which intimidates the workers. This was the case for example, during a restructuring at the Fiji Sugar Corporation.

These regulations also have a direct impact on the trade unions' ability to freely organise their activities. A permit must be obtained to hold any trade union meeting or activity. On the 20 August, a police chief in Lautoka used these public emergency regulations to refuse authorisation to hold a trade union meeting of the sugar sector (Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union).

Lack of protection against anti-union discrimination: The Fiji Trade Union Congress reports that organising is becoming more and more difficult even though Fiji has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98; they are often not adequately applied. There is no protection for workers who set up a trade union or become members. This generates a certain anxiety amongst workers who are reluctant to join a union for fear of losing their job.

Lack of confidence in the courts: The Fijian trade unions denounce the increasing judicial abuses. The independence, qualifications and the transparency in the nomination of judges are not sufficient.

Obstacles to organising workers in Export Processing Zones and for migrant workers: According to the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC), numerous techniques are employed in the Export Processing Zones to discourage workers from setting up trade unions. Fear of employer reprisals is one of the major obstacles. The FTUC reports similar difficulties and obstacles in organising migrant workers who are brought to Fiji by their employers.

Attack on the freedom of movement of three trade unionists: On 9 July, the security forces prevented the President, Vice-President and the accountant of the Fijian Teachers Association (FTA) from boarding a plane for an island in the south of the archipelago where they were planning to hold a meeting and visit members. While this is the only incident of this type reported, it shows that the security forces monitor the movements of trade unionists.

Arrest of the General Secretary of the National Farmers Union: On 1 October, Mahendra Chaudhry, General Secretary of the National Farmers Union and former prime minister was arrested along with five others in Rakiraki in the west of the main Fijian island as he was speaking to a group of farmers. He was accused of not having requested authorisation to organise a public meeting, a violation of the public emergency regulations. Mahendra Chaudhry was released on bail on 4 October.

The Committee on Freedom of Association recommends the reinstatement of Mr. Koroi: On 10 December 2008 the Fiji Public Service Commission informed Tevita Koroi President of the Fijian Teachers' Association (FTA) and a member of the Council of Pacific Education that he was suspended from his position as principal. He was fired from the public service on 30 April 2009. The Commission criticised Mr. Koroi for speaking out publicly against the military coup. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association recommended to the government in November that Mr. Koroi be reinstated immediately to his previous role as principal, with no loss of salary or benefits.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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