ERP Amendment Act remains non-compliant

Press Release July 10th 2015

Employment Relations Promulgation (amendment) Act Remains Non-Compliant

The FTUC refutes the claim by the Attorney General that the Employment Relations Promulgation  (amendment) Act is compliant with the Core ILO Conventions. This is far from the truth. The Act has serious shortcomings and is also a demonstration of Government not adhering to the Tripartite Agreement that it signed with the FCEF and FTUC and witnessed by the Director General of ILO. It is clear from the debate in Parliament that the Government side totally ignored its obligation to adhere to the Agreement and also demonstrated its ignorance of the ILO Core Conventions.

The Tripartite Agreement called for the ERP 2007 to be the primary legislation governing “labour management relations in Fiji”. This Government amended the ERP and included in it parts the ENI Decree that it claimed is repealed. This is a contradiction it conveniently ignored. The Government also undertook to ensure that all its labour laws would comply with ILO Core Conventions. The essential Industries remain the same as in the ENI Decree which was subject of ILO Committee of Experts report urging Government to ensure that “essential Industries” are those that threaten the life, safety and health of people. This issue is crystal clear in the reports and yet we have the AG attempting to mislead people into believing that the Amendment Act now complies with ILO Standards. How does the Pine Industry or the Banking Industry or Fiji Airways threaten anyone’s safety, health or life? If anything at all, the amendments in the Act expand the coverage of the definition of “essential services” to all Government owned enterprises which now includes PAFCO and FSC which were previously excluded. This is just one example.

The other is the Bargaining Units which have been imported from the ENI Decree. This Amendment Act allows the Bargaining Units to continue to exist and behave like Unions. Clearly an attempt again to undermine legitimate trade Unions. It also restricts members of the bargaining unit to form a Union until and unless majority of members of the bargaining unit vote to form a union. This is a serious restriction on Freedom of Association which the AG claims is fully restored. Undermining Trade Unions is definitely not a show of good faith. In addition, Prison Officers are still being excluded and deprived of their Right to Associate. This has been made clear in the Committee of Experts report on C87 . The Sub Committee also does not consider Prison Officers as disciplined forces. Only the AG does.

The third example is the Right to Strike. All workers classified as “essential workers” do not have the right to strike. Provisions of the Amendment Act deny in practice these workers the right to strike as there are provisions for compulsory mediation and arbitration. Without the right to strike, the ability for Unions to effectively collective bargain is restricted quite apart from the fact that the right to strike is a fundamental right under ILO Convention 87. The right to strike does not mean that Unions want to go on strike as the AG would like all to believe. It is a right that can be exercised if and when necessary. Strikes only become a necessity when employers behave unreasonably or unfairly and is the last resort. The FTUC also agrees that strikes in such situations must adhere to a procedure which Unions and Employers must observe. It is not a right to strike without notice as the AG claimed.

All these were repeatedly submitted to the Parliamentary Sub Committee by various stakeholders and the ERAB Sub Committee but were ignored by Government. It is now clear the Parliamentary Sub Committee was just a show to the public that Government was consulting when in fact it had no desire to listen and act. The FTUC has repeatedly cautioned Government of the shortcomings in the Amendment Act to fully comply with the ILO Core Conventions. It is now apparent that the AG wishes to believe his own bluff and mislead people. We say that he can continue to do so at his own peril. He must not blame FTUC for raising the same issues at ILO in November as that appears now to be the only option left. Government has gone deaf on these facts.

The Fiji Governments reputation as one that cannot be trusted will also be reinforced in November for its total disregard for the Tripartite Agreement that it has signed. The Government appears to think that it is alright to sign agreements at international forums in full knowledge and presence of the Governing Body of ILO Comprising of Employers, Governments and Workers representatives from around the world, witnessed by the Director General of ILO and then totally disregard it. We put Government on notice that FTUC will vigorously pursue these matters at ILO. The responsibility of the outcome must be borne by the AG and his Government.

All these issues are coupled by the controversy that surrounds the departure of the ILO Regional Director from Fiji so suddenly. The FTUC is fully aware of the circumstances and will pursue this matter with ILO. The Government has much to explain in regards to its conduct in this instance. This is not the first time that this Government has acted in such a brash manner with ILO, the last being the expulsion of the ILO Contacts mission. It certainly is a slow learner.

Felix Anthony

National Secretary

10th July 2015

Version 1 Bill-No-10-Employment-Relations-(2)(7)

Final version -Bill-No-10-Employment-Relations-(Amendment)-with-Amendment-(1)(1)

Report on ERP Amendments by Sub Com