In December 2006 a coup was staged ‘in the national interest”. From April 2009 it
turned out to be anything but in the national interest when the authorities abrogated
the 1997 Constitution, imposed martial law on the nation, banned all political and
trade union activities and severely curtailed the right to freedom of expression,
association and assembly.
Now we have Nesbitt Hazelman of the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation
talking about “putting the nation first” (FT 27/1/16). The reference is to FCEF stance
in relation to the current ILO tri-partite mission to Fiji.
One must ask Mr Nesbitt – just what does he mean by “putting the nation first”? It is a nice bit of rhetoric which acts as a smokescreen to justify anything. In this case, one presumes that putting “the nation’s interest first” translates to putting their own interests first.
We expect people in Mr Nesbitt’s position to not hide behind such flimsy rhetoric. The employers should have the courage to stand by the truth.
The TRUTH is that the FF government has reneged on its March 2015 agreement with the tripartite partners. Fiji’s labour laws are, therefore, still not compliant with core ILO conventions.
Mr Nesbitt and his colleagues should realise that “the national interest” as they put it, is certainly not served by workers being denied their fundamental rights.
National interest means the interests of the people. The workers are the people. No nation can prosper or progress in the long term if it denies the fundamental rights of its people.
The workers in this case, are not asking for anything new. They are merely fighting for the reinstatement of rights ie collective bargaining, freedom of association and assembly that were snatched from them under Decree 35 of 2011 and the regime imposed 2013 Constitution.
Reinstating these rights is putting “the nation first”, not pushing the vested interests of individual groups or the authoritarian policies of the regime.
A message to the ILO Tripartite Mission
The workers of Fiji have suffered long under the draconian policies and decrees of the regime.
Our democratic institutions have been dismantled or severely disabled by a government which attained power through rigged elections and continues to impose its authoritarian agenda under an imposed constitution that is deeply flawed and stands condemned by the UN Human Rights Council.
The 2013 constitution claims to uphold the trade union rights of workers but, in effect, its provisions are overridden by the regime’s draconian decrees which remain in force.
Members of the ILO Mission must remain focused on the issue before it and not be detracted by the sideshows orchestrated by the authorities.
In simple language, the Mission is here to enquire into the obstacles that lie in the way of submission by the parties of a joint implementation report on the agreement reached between them in March 2015.
Do we really need a high-powered week-long inquiry to determine the obvious?
Is it not the deviousness of the government that is frustrating the process?
The workers of Fiji have pinned their faith on the ILO. We sincerely hope that they will not be disappointed.