19 Feb 2020

Fiji govt accused of weakening trade union movement

11:09 am on 19 February 2020

Fiji's government has been accused of weakening the trade union movement.

The Opposition claims that while the government professes to respect the rights of Fijian workers, it has failed to honour its agreements with unions.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress in Suva, Fiji.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress in Suva, Fiji. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

Addressing Parliament this week during a heated debate, National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad said the Employment Relations Act and Political Parties Decree limited the rights of trade union leaders in Fiji.

He said the government was also "breaking" the harmony between workers and their unions.

"They've been lying about the trade unions movement, they've been lying about the workers' rights. They've been lying to the ILO (International Labour Organisation)...

"Let's be honest, the trade union movement in this country has been applying for permits for peaceful marches but they have not even bothered to give a reason as to why the permit for marches has not been granted."

The resulting weakening of the trade union movement would lead to "problems with low wages" and a loss of economic confidence, he warned.

Dr Prasad said the government should engage with unions in good faith.

The deputy leader of the opposition in Fiji and NFP president Biman Prasad.

The deputy leader of the opposition in Fiji and NFP president Biman Prasad. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

Earlier, the Opposition MP Lenora Qereqeretabua told the House the tripartite agreement was not working.

The agreement was signed in 2015 between the government, the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation and the Fiji Trades Union Council to ensure smoother employment relations.

"The unions I believe are boycotting the ERAB because government is not complying with the timelines in respect of the review of labour laws...and essential national industry decree," she said.

However, Attorney-General Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum said the unions' refusal to participate in the ERAB was "political".

Former employment minister Jone Usamate also refuted Ms Qereqeretabua's claims.

"She has basically stated that the unions have not been participating into the employment relations advisory report because they were talking about the permit. The refusal to get the permit. The ministry of employment does not have anything to do with permits. If you want the tripartite mechanism to function you need to come to the party, sit and admit it."

Mr Usamate urged the Opposition and the unions to contribute to the tripartite discussions.

"If you want to see the proof of the pudding, you look at unemployment rate in this country. The last findings on unemployment put youth unemployment in this country at only 4.5 percent. That is the proof of the pudding."

Fiji's attorney general,  Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Fiji's attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. Photo: AFP/Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto

Minister for Industrial Relations Parveen Kumar said about $US2 million was paid out to workers by employers following investigations into non-compliance issues.

"For the last financial year the compliance section of my ministry has conducted a total of 3907 labor compliance inspections and investigated and settled 3034 labor complaints registered with my ministry for non-compliance issues on wages due, annual leave, overtime and meal allowance.

"The total recovery for the last financial year stands at $FJD4.3m which has been paid out to the workers."

Mr Kumar also assured the House that workers at the country's ports of entry would be safe in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, the head of the National Workers Union Felix Anthony is due in court next month charged with malicious behaviour under the Public Order Act.

Mr Anthony, who has pleaded not guilty, was among unionists arrested last year after members protested the termination of over 2000 jobs at the Fiji water Authority.

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