16 Sep 2011

New Fiji decree baffles unions and businesses

5:41 am on 16 September 2011

Business and unions in Fiji are baffled at the Fiji regime's list of essential national industries listed under a new decree which has been roundly condemned by the labour movement.

The decree aims to ensure the viability of industries deemed vital to Fiji's economic well being and security.

But the sugar industry, while on the decline, is still a pillar of the economy and its been left off the list.

Sally Round reports.


The decree, which unions say is aimed at smashing their influence, includes four foreign-owned banks and publicly owned telecommunications and civil aviation enterprises, as well as the Fiji Electricity Authority and Water Authority.

The surprise omission was sugar but the regime hasn't ruled out including it at a later date.

Right now the crushing season's in full swing and it doesn't want to interrupt things.

The President of the Fiji Trades Union Congress is Daniel Urai.

"It's all bull. What I can see is that they fear some action taken by the sugar industry workers. (It's) because they feel it is important that Fiji sugar must be sold this year in order to bring about the revenue that they so much require that (is why) they now are not touching the sugar industry."

Not wanting to jeapardise lucrative fair trade accreditation is also being touted as a possible reason behind the move.

Any such fear is justified, as the issue's now going to an expert panel of the International Labour Organisation.

A Committee of Experts has been asked to make a ruling on whether the decree's in breach of fundamental workers' rights.

The ILO's representative in Suva, David Lamotte, says a ruling against Fiji would have a major impact on business and trade.

The fair trade discussions that have often been had around Fiji...fair trade agreements usually refer to compliance with international labour standards. Trade agreements normally have a clause in respect to compliance with fundamental rights at work and principles. So they're two practical examples that will affect businesses in the private sector and the private sector is the engine of growth.

A union leader representing bank and finance workers in Fiji Pramod Rae says including banks in the decree defies logic.

Given that the banks are highly profitable and established institutions, it's all the more shocking that a decree that is intended to provide some protection for industries and corporations (which) are supposedly in some financial difficulty, that the banks are included there.

Pramod Rae says the law's confusing and contradictory, with onerous requirements on both employers and employees.

and David Lamotte says the banks now find themselves in a difficult situation.

A company obeys the laws of that country in which they're operating. Of course we expect the laws of the country are fair, just and socially responsible. Now international companies that are caught by this new regulation have to actually sit down with their lawyers and understand what their implications are for their operations in that country.

ANZ says being included on the list won't change its commitment to its workers.

The CEO in Fiji Norman Wilson says he's waiting for legal opinion on the issue and will talk further with ANZ's regulator the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

We've got the sixty day consultation period. Our first priority was to reassure our staff that we would continue to negotiate in good faith and to use that period to sit down and talk to them.

The interim government says it'll keep reviewing the list of industries to be included in the decree.

Confusingly, it says the garment, mining and retail industries are deliberately not included, showing the Bainimarama government's commitment to improving the working conditions and pay of those finding themselves on the margin of poverty.

It says the decree does not breach ILO Conventions on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining...conventions which it's ratified.

A ruling from the ILO's experts on the matter is due after their meeting in November.