The International Labour Organisation has expressed “deep regret” at the Fiji government’s decision to go ahead with restrictive labour laws (Decree 35).
In a strongly worded statement issued on 13 September ILO Director-General Mr Juan Somavia said it was essential for Fiji to change course, reverse restrictive labour laws and restore basic civil liberties.
The ILO had sent a high level delegation to Fiji late last month to mediate between the interim government and the unions following the gazetting of Decree 35 in a bid to avert its enforcement.
It followed this up with a submission to the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Auckland last week expressing concern at “the gravity of human rights situation in Fiji and …the danger of the serious degradation of that situation in the near future”.
It hoped that the “voice and authority” of the PIF would encourage Fiji to move “decisively and expeditiously back to the path of full respect of democratic freedoms and human rights which are indispensible to its future success and prosperity.
Both documents are reproduced below:
Statement on Fiji, by ILO Director-General Juan Somavia
13 September 2011
The Director-General of the ILO, Mr. Juan Somavia, expressed deep regret at the decision of the Government of Fiji to proceed with the publication of regulations to implement the Essential Industries (Employment) Decree which was gazetted in late July.
The decision, announced on 9 September, designates eleven named corporations in the financial, telecommunications, civil aviation, and public utilities industries as falling under the application of the Decree with very far-reaching implications for the exercise of trade union rights. They include the ending of existing collective agreements, the designation of new bargaining agents which may not be trade unions, and the possible imposition of compulsory arbitration of disputes and other limits on the right to strike. The Attorney-General has said that other industries could be added to the list at a later date.
Mr. Somavia’s statement follows the visit of a High-Level ILO secretariat mission to Fiji in August which had raised the Organization’s concerns about the Decree with the Government and advised it on the negative implications for Fiji’s international obligations under ratified ILO Conventions.
He said that “By going ahead with this Decree the Government has demonstrated the same lack of concern for the views of the international community as it has for the rights and aspirations of its own people. What is really essential for Fiji is that it change course now. That means reversing this and other restrictive labour decrees, a return to dialogue with trade unions and employers, an end to assaults on and harassment of trade unionists, and the immediate restoration of basic civil liberties.”
He highlighted the importance of the communiqué issued by the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting (Auckland, New Zealand, 7-8 September) which expressed their “continuing deep concern at the deteriorating human rights situation and serious political and economic challenges facing the people of Fiji”. The ILO had presented a submission on Fiji to the Forum in which it warned of “the danger of a serious degradation of the situation in the near future”.
Mr. Somavia added that “the Government must understand that meeting these challenges, and the success of the reforms to which it claims to be committed, cannot be achieved through the denial of fundamental rights. The people of Fiji deserve better.”