24 Feb 2020

Fiji union sees no point in govt-run talks on labour issues

10:03 am on 24 February 2020

Fiji's government has rendered tripartite talks on labour issues a waste of time, a unionist says.

A bus stop in Suva, Fiji

Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

In 2016, the government signed a tripartite agreement with unions and employers to address labour issues.

This was done at the behest of the International Labour Organisation.

However, Fiji Transport Workers Union's general secretary Kamlesh Kumar said the government was not playing fair under that mechanism.

He said unions were contributing to the tripartite talks, in particular to the Employment Relations Advisory board.

But it had emerged that government representatives who chaired the tripartite meetings expected unions to always endorse their decisions, he said.

"Because they already come with pre-conceived ideas, their minds are made up, there is nothing that the unions can positively contribute. And thus the unions find there is no reason wasting its time participating in tripartite discussions when decisions are already made."

The government was recently criticised in Parliament for undermining the country's unions, which is frequently denied permits to hold marches on labour issues.

In a heated debate, the former employment minister Jone Usamate said his ministry had nothing to do with processing permits.

But Mr Kumar said that as the regulating authority, it was disingenuous of government to distance itself from permit decisions.

"It's a fair request from the union movement, and government has everything to do with it," he said.

"Government has influence over its police force, and other institutions that grant them [permits]. And they not only reject them, but they don't even give reasons why they're not allowing marches."

According to him, government and employers are hardening their stand against the union movement and are working to destabilise unions.

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