"The FTUC reiterates that the Essential Industries Decree was unjust and wrong. It did no good to Fiji’s reputation nor to its economy. It was merely imposed to kill the Trade Union Movement. It failed. Government, and here I single out the Attorney General’s obsession of ensuring that he alone has the power and that no other institution or organisation should challenge that power. This is what we call dictatorship. We call on the Attorney General to step down from his high horse and respect the rights of all citizens and do the right thing. We call on him to honour the Agreement he negotiated with FTUC and consented to its signing by the then Minister for Labour."
As agreed prior to the November 2015 Session of the ILO Governing Body Meeting, The Government, Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation (FCEF) and Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) met on the 30th November, 2015 to agree to a work plan to comply with the March 2015 Geneva Tripartite Agreement and the most recent resolution of the ILO Governing Body. The parties again met on 21st December and agreed to the following:
1. That Government would fully comply with the 25th March, 2015 Tripartite Agreement signed by the three parties.
2. That the three Parties would make every effort to resolve the outstanding matters in the Tripartite Agreement. In this respect, the FTUC had listed out the issues in its correspondence dated 30th November, 2015 to Government and FCEF.
3. That the Tripartite Partners would meet for the whole week commencing 4th January 2016 to complete this task.
4. That the Government would have an amendment Bill in Parliament in its February Session and implement the amendments before the March Session of the ILO Governing Body.
5. That Government would direct all its Companies and Municipal Councils to resume check off deductions (Unions Subs) without delay as was the case with civil servants.
6. That the Government would act immediately to ensure that the Arbitration Court was functional with all other enabling structures and legislation.
7. That the Arbitration Tribunals would be strengthened with the appointment of two additional Tribunals to be based in the West and North to clear the backlog of Cases.
8. That Government would investigate the recent registration of company sponsored unions which were not in compliance with the current laws. Details were given.
9. That Government would investigate and halt any attempt my management in public enterprises to form bargaining units instead of workers joining or forming their own Unions.
10. That Government would act upon the application made almost 3 years ago for the amalgamation of PAFCO Employees Union and Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union (now known as National Union of Workers). This process normally would take no more than one week and is being intentionally blocked by Government.
The Government was to report back to the Tripartite Partners by the 4th of January on items 8, 9 and 10. Unfortunately, the FCEF and FTUC were advised on 24th December, 2015 by the Acting Permanent Secretary for Labour that the future meetings would be handled by the Chair of ERAB who is the Solicitor General and works on directions of the Attorney General. The ERP at Section 8 (5) clearly states that the Permanent Secretary for Labour is the Chairperson of ERAB. The Solicitor General cannot Chair ERAB.
The FTUC list of issues included amendments sought in the Employment Relations (amendment) Act 2015 which were not in compliance with the ILO Core Conventions. Other matters on the list included the omissions in the Amendment Act. These were namely:
i. the reinstatement of all Disputes pending before the Tribunal at the time of the imposition of the ENI Decree
ii. the reinstatement of all Collective Agreements that were nullified by the ENI Decree
iii. the reinstatement of registration of Unions that were deregistered by the ENI Decree and
iv. the right of workers who were wronged or unfairly treated during the life of the ENI Decree to report disputes and seek redress through the disputes procedure in the Employment Relations Promulgation (ERP).
These are matters of ensuring justice is available to all workers and that there should be no discrimination.
The FTUC reiterates that the Essential Industries Decree was unjust and wrong. It did no good to Fiji’s reputation nor to its economy. It was merely imposed to kill the Trade Union Movement. It failed. Government, and here I single out the Attorney General’s obsession of ensuring that he alone has the power and that no other institution or organisation should challenge that power. This is what we call dictatorship. We call on the Attorney General to step down from his high horse and respect the rights of all citizens and do the right thing. We call on him to honour the Agreement he negotiated with FTUC and consented to its signing by the then Minister for Labour.
The AG in all his utterances has failed to even acknowledge the Agreement with FTUC and FCEF. The FTUC calls upon the AG to explain why he is not prepared to comply with the very Agreement he negotiated and agreed to. Why has he interfered with the work of the Minister for Labour? The Prime Ministers claim that 2015 was the first year of true democracy rings hollow when Fiji was listed as one of the 5 worst countries for violations of workers’ rights by the ILO. Fiji continues to be on the ILO agenda for serious violations of workers’ rights and is on the verge of being investigated by an ILO Commission of Inquiry. One cannot claim true democracy without respect for human rights. Workers’ rights are part of human rights.
The ILO Tripartite Mission is to arrive in the Country on 25th January 2016. The FTUC looks forward to meeting the Mission and presenting its report. We continue to call on the ILO to decide on a Commission of Inquiry should no progress be made in resolving the impasse. There must be tangible actions taken by Government to comply. Promises by Government hold no value whatsoever.