5 Feb 2016

Worker's rights dispute in Fiji may be over

11:47 am on 5 February 2016
Minister Semi Koroilavesau, (right), meets ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

Minister Semi Koroilavesau, (right), meets ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. Photo: Fiji Government

A dispute over worker's rights in Fiji that reached the International Labour Organisation and lasted many years could finally be over.

Last month, an ILO mission went to Fiji to meet the government, employers and unions in an effort to resolve their issues and avoid a Commission of Enquiry or the highest investigative procedure.

However while the government painted a rosy picture post-misson, unions say not all is well.

The Industrial Relations Minister, Semi Koroilavesau, said the government had moved to address union concerns.

He said this included the reduction of strike notices, the reinstatement of grievance processes, the ability to deduct union fees from pay, concessions to pay over 17-thousand US dollars to aggrieved parties and the destablishment of bargaining units which unions said had undermined them.

Mr Koroilavesau said the government had always been open to change but there had been communication problems between various unions.

"It has been difficult to discuss issues because there seems to be different stands by different unions. At this time when the tripartitie team from Geneva came, they were able to identify where the problems were and then try and bridge the gap which allowed everyone to sit on the roundtable and then discuss issues."

The Minister said the ILO will now be asked to cease its work into contraventions of their standards.

"The parties have agreed that they'll ask the ILO to discontinue the pursuance of the Article 26 complaint and that any other comments or discussions will be agreed in the tripartite discussions."

Mr Koroilavesau said concerns over restrictions regarding political affiliations were not part of the ILO mandate and should be dealt with separately.

Felix Anthony

Felix Anthony Photo: RNZ

The Fiji Trade Unions Congress General Secretary Felix Anthony said his union signed the ILO required report but conceded there are still issues around the Political Parties Decree.

"We're also aware that the ILO has yet to make a recommendation in that regard. They're still requesting much more information from the government of Fiji. That is a matter of concern but the priority for the TUC was to restore the rights of workers as soon as possible and then we will be looking at all other matters."

Fiji election candidate and former trade unionist, Attar Singh.

Fiji election candidate and former trade unionist, Attar Singh. Photo: RNZI / Sally Round

But Attar Singh from the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions said issues like the extension of the essential services category and the matter of political restrictions need to be addressed.

Mr Singh said the government and FTUC had rushed through an agreement in an effort to avoid a Commission of Inquiry, which had the potential to discourage trade partners.

"We all wanted to avoid the inquiry but that doesn't mean that an inquiry has to be avoided at the expense of worker rights and here it seems to be that just to avoid the inquiry, worker rights have been given second stage. That is something the ILO should not be prepared to entertain."

Mr Singh's union is meeting over the weekend to decide what action its members can take.

But Felix Anthony said his union is happy with the results.

"We expect the new amendments to go to parliament next week and be passed by parliament next week and put into law and I think we will have to wait and see how we are able to put this into practice and that workers can actually exercise their rights."

The ILO is expected to decide during its March meeting, whether concerns have been addressed sufficently.

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