Stop the Circus: Get on with the Inquiry!

  • 28th January 2016
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The ILO Tripartite Mission to Fiji begins its work next Monday. It is here to:                              DSC03632

(i) review the outgoing obstacles to the submission of a joint implementation report; and

(ii) consider all matters pending in the Article 26 complaint

the Mission’s arrival follows the inability of the partners (government, unions and employers) to submit a joint implementation report derived from the Tripartite Agreement between the government, the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) and the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation (FCEF) on 25 March 2015.

The agreement acknowledged that:

(1) The Employment Relations Promulgation (ERP) forms the primary basis for labour management relations in Fiji

(2) the review of the labour laws, including the ERP, must ensure compliance with ILO core conventions

(3) any further issues and recommendations identified by any of the parties in respect of the review shall only be raised and negotiated through the ERAB; and should take into account the findings of the review to be presented as a Bill to Parliament no later than August 2015

(4) government shall restore check off facilities

The agreement was negotiated between the parties and signed in Geneva on 25 March 2015.

Attorney General Khaiyum signed the agreement on behalf of the government when the appropriate Minister to do so should have been Mr. Jioji Konrote who at the time was the Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations.

This was a grave error on the part of the FTUC as the organisation representing the workers in Fiji. FTUC national secretary Felix Anthony should have had enough sense to refuse to enter into any negotiations with Khaiyum knowing full well that he was the architect and the principal proponent of the anti union/worker decrees that took away the rights of the workers secured over the decades through blood, sweat and toil of the workers and their leaders of the past.

What business had khaiyum to butt his nose into the sphere of responsibility of the Labour Minister?

Khaiyum obviously had a vested interest in being in on the negotiations- he could not be trusted to negotiate on the issue in good faith. Having been instrumental in putting Fiji in this embarrassing situation of facing an ILO Inquiry, Khaiyum tried to manipulate the process to save his own face.

In classic Khaiyum style, if the negotiations turned out successful, he would take credit for it rather than the Minister for Industrial Relations.

But it is now clear that Khaiyum never intended to honour the agreement reached on 25 March. While legislation was put through Parliament as agreed, he incorporated into it all the objectionable provisions of the Essential National Industries Decree 35 of 2011. Further, he has not put in place enabling mechanism to make the legislation effective.

Too late FTUC realized that Khaiyum was not to be trusted. It refused to put its signature to a joint agreement that was to be submitted to the ILO in October. This signaled a breakdown in negotiations which prompted ILO to give the parties time until November to present a joint submission or face an Inquiry.

Surpisingly, instead of letting matters take their course, Anthony arranged for the Inquiry to be deferred to March 2016 to allow him yet one more opportunity to ‘negotiate’ an agreement with the new Minister for Industrial Relations who the unionists found a lot more amenable, in Anthony’s words.

But behind the scenes Khaiyum was ready to stab the unions once again. He extended membership of the Employment Relations Advisory Board (ERAB) to bring in government stooges, and unions not affiliated to the FTUC so that he could play the unionists one against the other.

Worse still, in a blatant illegal move, he got Bainimarama to agree to appoint the Solicitor General, Sarvanand Sharma to chair the ERAB meetings. Under the Act, ERAB chair should be the Permanent Secretary for Labour. It is shocking that the Solicitor General allowed himself to be used illegally by the AG. It is equally shocking that the guardian of the law, the AG himself, should resort to such unlawfull means to manipulate the process. At the same time, the new Labour Minister was sidelined from the process after the unions expressed confidence that they could work out an agreement with him.

This is where the situation now rests on the eve of the ILO mission’s arrival to Fiji. One wonders what on earth the Mission is coming here for.

It is absolutely clear from the bizarre manner in which Khaiyum was allowed to manipulate and frustrate the process from March 2015, that the FF government had no intention to negotiate in good faith. It was simply buying time to somehow ward off the inevitable Commission of Inquiry.

The ILO, as the arbiter in this case, should stay aloof from Fiji’s internal wranglings. The bottom line as far as the ILO is concerned should be whether Fiji complies with its core conventions. It is very clear that it does not.

Thus far, it has given Fiji ample opportunity to comply – Fiji has failed to do so. Much time has already been wasted.

Let’s put an end to this circus and get on with the Inquiry!