The following is adapted from the recently released Fiji Play Fair report by Amnesty International –
“Under international law, all workers have the human right to form and join trade unions, to bargain collectively and to strike. These rights are an essential foundation for the realization of other rights, and are enshrined in the UDHR and provided for in conventions adopted by the ILO, including core conventions 87 and 98 that Fiji has ratified.
Rajeshwar Singh is Secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Congress and Fiji Public Service Association. He expressed a number of concerns about workers’ rights, including:
“The workers’ rights in Fiji have been severely restricted. The regime has enacted various decrees which have impacted badly on the rights of workers, including the Essential National Industries Decree.”
“The decree has decimated unions. There is no job security. There is no real provision to go on strike in this country.”
The Fiji Government has taken some steps to protect workers’ rights in principle. The right to form or join a trade union and the right to collectively bargain are protected in the Constitution. However, broad limitations render these guarantees almost meaningless.
The Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree 2011 (ENID) overrides constitutional rights and continues to limit collective bargaining rights, severely curtailing the right to strike, bans overtime payments and voids existing collective agreements for workers in key sectors of the economy, including sugar, aviation and tourism.
In addition to this, the Political Parties (Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures) Decree 2013, the Electoral Decree 2014 and the Constitution collectively prevent trade union officials from being a member of, or holding office in a political party, engaging in political activity, expressing support for a political party or campaigning on an issue related to elections (such as worker’s rights). Amnesty International is deeply concerned at the failure to respect workers’ rights in Fiji, including through restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association for workers.
As a result of the restrictions on workers’ rights and harassment of trade union officials, the ILO has identified Fiji as one of five countries where workers’ rights violations are the most serious and urgent. In 2012, a high level mission of the ILO investigating workers’ rights in Fiji was directed to leave the country.
The protection of workers’ rights is critical in Fiji, where poverty is a major barrier to the enjoyment of rights. Workers, union leaders and civil society organizations must be able to advocate for improved working conditions and fair wages without fear of harassment or reprisals. Amnesty International urges all political parties and candidates to pledge that Fiji’s next government will take steps to protect workers’ rights and union leaders.
Amnesty International continues to receive reports of intimidation, harassment and arrests of trade union officials. For example:
Trade Union leaders Felix Anthony and Daniel Urai have been arrested and charged with criminal offences for advocating for workers’ rights, including on more serious charges of sedition.
Daniel Urai was arrested most recently in January 2014 in relation to a strike at the Sheraton Hotel in Nadi, which he claims he was not involved in. These charges were subsequently dropped.
Kenneth Zinck, Daniel Urai and Felix Anthony have all complained to the police about harassment, threats and physical abuse by the military since 2011. The police have failed to investigate these claims.
In 2013, military officers were sent to the Lautoka sugar mill in an apparent move to intimidate workers due to vote on industrial action.”