Rights of Fiji workers to come under international scrutiny
The rights of workers in Fiji is to come under the scrutiny of the International Labour Organisation at the end of the month.
The rights of workers in Fiji are to come under the scrutiny of the International Labour Organisation at the end of the month. Earlier this year the ILO deferred an investigation into possible labour rights infringements to allow the government time to change legislation and policy. There is now disagreement over whether this has been done.
Koro Vaka'uta reports.
Last week the two big unions in Fiji refused to sign an ILO-required joint implementation report. The Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions and the Fiji Trades Union Congress want the ILO to examine if the government is infringing on workers' rights at their next meeting in Geneva. FICTU general secretary Attar Singh says they are concerned about how broad the government has defined 'essential services' which he says restricts strike action. Mr Singh says there are also potential restrictions on the right to freedom of association. He says the government has not done enough.
ATTAR SINGH: The decision on arriving at a commission of inquiry was deferred to allow the government of Fiji to bring about changes so that laws can be conformative with the standards that the ILO requires. Unfortunately what we are saying is that some action has been taken but the laws are still not conformative with the standards.
Mr Singh says the unions will now leave it to the ILO to decide if it will begin a commission of inquiry.
ATTAR SINGH: This is the highest level of investigative procedure that ILO can take. It is the ultimate in the ILO system and I think governments and organisations need to look at with that kind of seriousness. If the ILO does decide on that then it does mean that in the ILO's view the Fiji government is violating rights which ILO would like member countries to observe.
A former Prime Minister and Fiji Labour Party Leader Mahendra Chaudhry says such a move would have a hugely negative impact on trade and the economy.
MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: The business community has expressed some concern in this regard and they are naturally anxious that the matter should be settled without having to face a commission of inquiry. The ball rests in the court of the government. They are the ones who are reneging on promises they made to make the legislation here compliant with ILO's core conventions.
The Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation did sign the government report and backs the changes. Its Chief Executive Nesbit Hazelman says an ILO inquiry must be avoided.
NESBITT HAZELMAN: The employers will always put the nation first. Any commission of inquiry will have adverse affects on the nation and ultimately workers of which the unions say they represent. The federation has taken the stance that we must ensure at all times that we continue to talk and that a commission of inquiry is unnecessary at this stage.
Mr Hazelman says while some issues remain, the government has made enough changes to meet ILO standards.
NESBITT HAZELMAN: The fact the decrees have all been repealed, the fact that unions are now organising its members in essential industry areas, the fact that check-off system is being restored, the fact that collective bargaining is now taking place - I think that it augurs well in terms of what we are trying to achieve in the long run."
He says smaller issues, like paternity and maternity leave, can be dealt with on a domestic level. The next ILO session begins on October the 29th and ends on November the 12th.
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