FTUC welcomes ILO Resolution

The FTUC welcomes the decision of the ILO Governing Body on Fiji at its meeting in Geneva on Wednesday 11th November 2015. The Governing Body once again deliberated on the Fiji situation and the lack of progress in complying with the Tripartite Agreement of March 2015 between Government, FTUC and FCEF. The joint Agreement has six action points that parties needed to comply with. They were:
1. That all labour management relations would be governed by the ERP.
2. That all amendments would comply with the ILO Core Labour Standards.
3. That the review of the ERP conducted by the Tripartite Partners in 2013 would be acted upon.
4. That Government would reinstate Check-off (Union Dues deduction)
5. That all the above would be done within a certain time-frame i.e. Legislative amendments to Parliament by end of August 2015 and implementation by end of October 2015
6. That the Parties to the Agreement would submit a joint report to the June 2015 session of the GB.
The Government failed to comply with the above provisions and unilaterally decided upon some amendments to the ERP. As such, no joint report could be made to the Governing Body in June 2015. No meetings were convened despite many requests from FTUC and FCEF. On the eve of this Governing Body meeting, Government convened a reconstituted ERAB meeting which FTUC refused to attend. The Agenda was to rubber stamp a report that Government prepared to the Governing Body. The Government and others, however, met and decided on a monthly meeting to address the violations. Based on this decision, Government attempted through the Asia Pacific Government Grouping (ASPAG) at the ILO to defer the report of any Tripartite Delegation to Fiji to June 2016 and a decision on the Commission of Inquiry by November 2016. This Resolution was put to the Governing Body by the Australian Government and was defeated. Employers, EU and many other Governments supported the Resolution that was originally tabled. This Resolution reiterates its regret to the continuing failure to submit a joint report from Government, FTUC and FCEF. It is noteworthy that the decision recognizes the parties to the joint report that the ILO is seeking. Government is not at liberty to call in whoever it wants to sign on to a joint report. In this respect, the FTUC calls upon Government to disband its new ERAB and re-constitute the original ERAB to meet without delay. FTUC will not be a party to Governments efforts to dilute representative rights to FTUC and FCEF. Such actions on part of Government only serve to undermine the parties to the Geneva Agreement and weaken the social partners.

The GB Decision also now calls on Government to accept a Tripartite Mission to Fiji to review the ongoing obstacles to a joint report and observance of the ILO Core Conventions. Having noted that in the past, there were considerable difficulties in gaining agreement of Government for ILO Missions, the GB also decided that should the Mission not be able to visit Fiji and submit a report by March 2016, then the March 2016 GB should decide on a Commission of Inquiry. The Governing Body has also decided that Fiji would be on the agenda of its March 2016 meeting.
The FTUC and the Workers Group at the ILO also considers the decision to also recognize the efforts of the Minister for Labour and to give him an opportunity to comply with the Agreement signed. We also welcome the efforts of the Minister for Labour and look forward to working with him and FCEF. We reiterate that work on this must begin without delay and not on the eve of the next GB meeting.

This decision gives Government another opportunity to act upon the Agreement without delay. This is an opportunity for Government to do the right thing for Fiji and her international reputation. Failure to act would have serious negative impact on the Country. It cannot simply sit back and play mischief with workers and blaming Unions and its leaders as holding the country to ransom or holding a gun to Government’s head. It must take full responsibility for its failure to act. The Government would be shooting itself in the foot if it does not take up this opportunity.

Felix Anthony

National Secretary

Fiji Teachers Union claims no quality learning in schools

‘No quality learning’

Source: Fiji Times
Siteri Sauvakacolo
Wednesday, November 11, 2015

THE Fiji Teachers Union claims there was no quality learning in schools around the country because of the late arrival of textbooks and other hiccups in the Education Ministry.

FTU general secretary Agni Deo Singh made the comment yesterday as Education Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy condemned reports by this newspaper regarding the non-delivery of textbooks to schools in Fiji.

Dr Reddy said there were more than 900 schools in the country and the geographical spatial distribution of schools posed challenges this newspaper was not aware of, adding that even though some schools may have not received all textbooks, copies were still made available to schools for teachers to make lesson preparations.

“Communication and transport problems are other issues to consider and The Fiji Times has put it in such a manner that the Ministry of Education is failing in its duty.

“We have with us verification that schools have received their textbooks and I am not sure where The Fiji Times is getting their information from,” Dr Reddy said.

“I hope that The Fiji Times will look at issues from a more realistic and holistic view. They need to face reality and at least report on the positives that has come out on the recent reforms, which is aimed at improving the delivery of educational services,” concluded the minister.

But Mr Singh refuted Dr Reddy’s comments.

“While we understand all the excuses he is giving, he knew of all these challenges when he made this unrealistic commitment and we had brought this to the attention of the ministry on numerous occasions during the first term when until April, less than half the textbooks had been distributed.

“And as late as the beginning of the second term, many schools were not adequately resourced with textbooks,” Mr Singh said.

“And of course now towards the end of the year, The Fiji Times has been able to identify some schools that are still yet to receive textbooks. Now it is 12 months down the line, I don’t think the excuse the minister is giving now holds any water.”

MP urges open dialogue

Source: Fiji Times

Vuniwaqa Bola-Bari
Wednesday, November 11, 2015

FORMER unionist turned Member of Parliament Mikaele Leawere has pleaded with Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama to talk to the unions and discuss issues of mutual interest with them.

Mr Leawere said this as he also refuted claims by Mr Bainimarama that unions were holding the country to ransom.

Mr Bainimarama earlier said the country “cannot allow a relatively small group of people to hold the nation to ransom by misrepresenting us and our circumstances to the rest of the world and disrupting our industries and services”.

Mr Leawere said this was far from the truth.

“I plead with the Prime Minister to talk to the unions and discuss issues of mutual interest with them,” Mr Leawere said.

“Mr Alain Pelce, senior international labour standards specialist at the International Labour Organization, was in Fiji to submit the organisation’s position on the ERP Amendment Bill No.10, 2015 at their own expense.

“Government did not comply with ILO conventions regarding ENI decrees, bargaining units, freedom of association,” Mr Leawere said.

He added unions had been working under stressful conditions and every move they made was covered with decrees.

“This makes it virtually impossible to go against them (Government), especially freedom of speech and the right to collective bargaining.

“To say that unions are damaging the jobs of other workers is mischievous because the upper hand is with the Government and every movement they make is being thwarted all the way,” he said.

The former unionist with the Fijian Teachers Association said “the presence of ILO and other unionists during the consultations did provide the much needed platform to submit what they needed Government to hear.

“Unions are made up of very good people who have the country and workers’ interest at heart and the last thing they want to see is to create instability in as far as the economy is concerned.”

Protect Country- Opposition tells PM ( FT 10.11.15)

Protect country, State told

Source: Fiji Times news article:  Nov 10th 2015.
By Keresi Nauwakarawa
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

OPPOSITION spokesman for State Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations Ratu Sela Nanovo says the State should protect Fiji from the negative impact that complements an International Labour Organization Commission of Inquiry.

In a statement Ratu Sela responded to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s statement that unions and workers representatives were holding the country to ransom over the standoff with the ILO.

Ratu Sela said Mr Bainimarama owed an apology to the Fiji Trades Union Congress.

“The Prime Minister and his Government should stop playing their foolish games, face the facts and start telling the truth.

“On the ILO agreement, the people should understand that the only reason an ILO Commission of Inquiry will be convened is if the Fiji First Government continues to drag its feet and fails to comply with its own undertaking that it signed in the Tripartite Agreement of March 2015.

“So the Government should just get on with it and protect the country from the negative impact of a commission of inquiry.”

Ratu Sela said the draft decision by the ILO and Government, employers and union representatives was brief and very clear.

The statement reads:

“Regretting the continuing failure to submit a joint implementation report to the Governing Body in accordance with the Tripartite Agreement signed by the Government of the Republic of Fiji, the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) and the Fiji Commerce and Employers’ Federation (FCEF) on 25 March 2015, and as requested by the Governing Body at its 324th Session (June 2015), the Governing Body decides:

* To call on the Government of Fiji to accept a tripartite mission to review the ongoing obstacles to the submission of a joint implementation report and consider all matters pending in the article 26 complaint;

* That, if the tripartite mission did not take place in time for a report to the 326th Session of the Governing Body (March 2016), then the 326th Session should take a decision on the appointment of a commission of inquiry under article 26; and

* To place this question on the agenda of its 326th Session.”

We remain steadfast in our struggle for restoration of workers’ rights in Fiji- Anthony

The FTUC remains steadfast in its struggle for the restoration of workers rights in Fiji. It is often forgotten that it was FTUC that negotiated with Governments and Employers representatives for the change in Labour Laws in Fiji after the so called Labour Reforms imposed in 1989 by the Rabuka interim Government. It was the FTUC representatives in Parliament that saw the passage of the Employment Relations Bill in Parliament in 2006 just prior to the Coup in December 2006. It was FTUC that persevered to ensure that the Bill which got stuck in the Senate on the day the Coup took place was implemented in 2007 as the ERP that all workers in Fiji today derive their rights from. The Tripartite partners (Government, FCEF and FTUC) agreed that a review of the ERP should be conducted after 5 years of it being in effect to address any shortcomings. This comprehensive review was conducted 2012 -2013 by the Tripartite partners. The implementation of this review is part of the Geneva Agreement.
It is unfortunate that many people who in the comfort of their homes and offices have no idea the work that FTUC has put in to improve the lives of working people. Yes there is still much to be achieved, more so after the draconian decrees since 2009. That work and struggle continues which is why FTUC has pursued the matter with ILO, ITUC, EU and many governments around the world.
Some believe that FTUC ought to only seek a Commission of Inquiry (COI) at the ILO and should not enter into any dialogue with Government. They believe that any dialogue is a sign of weakness. I disagree. Dialogue on the basis of equality and mutual respect is the only way to effectively resolve the impasse. Even if a COI is decided by ILO, the Tripartite partners will at some point have to enter into dialogue to resolve matters in dispute. The COI is not an end in self but a means to an end. It is to achieve a speedy resolution. The FTUC is focused on achieving the desired results and not to punish the Government or the Country.
We have had fruitful discussions with the new Minister for Labour last Saturday. Certain matters in dispute have been agreed to and we await their implementation. Further discussions are planned on outstanding issues. I have been warned by many that Government will not honor any agreement as it did not honor the Geneva Agreement. There is some merit in this advice. However, I am willing to enter into discussions with the new Minister and give him the opportunity to address the issues in dispute between Government and FTUC. We have agreed that the Geneva Agreement must be implemented. A COI will seek to do the same if appointed. Many talk of trade sanctions without having any understanding of how these happen. Many are ignorant enough to think a COI will solve all the problems and sanctions would be automatic. This is far from reality.

The FTUC will not be moved by professional critics and fly by night experts on these matters. Many of whom have never lifted a finger for workers in Fiji in the most difficult of times let alone do something that would have benefited workers in Fiji. These very people were nowhere to be seen or heard when Many including I were beaten up for what we stand for or when Daniel Urai and I were jailed for about 2 weeks for Trade Union activity in 2011. Yet they today stand on rooftops and make all the noise about what Trade Unions and in particular FTUC should do. They have become champions of workers’ overnight
In today’s Fiji where humour is essential to keep us all sane, we thank this lot for the entertainment and the fact that their blind hypocrisy is amusing.

The FTUC will persevere to achieve worker’s rights and dignity at work.

The Nobel Prize Is for Labor Movements around the World

Adapted from the Solidarity Center AFL-CID

By Tula Connell

The Tunisian General Labor Union (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT), a longtime Solidarity Center partner, was at the forefront of the four organizations that recently won the Nobel Peace Prize, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said today. In a ceremony at the AFL-CIO honoring UGTT Secretary-General Houcine Abassi, Shuler praised Abassi’s courage and tenacity and called the UGTT’s work “inspirational to us in the United States.”

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler welcomed UGTT Secretary-General Houcine Abassi in a ceremony honoring his work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Kate Conradt

In his remarks, Abassi said “the Nobel Prize is not given just to us, but to all the labor movements in the world.” The award “sends a message that unions can play an equal role in government, in social dialogue …  and many times can provide critical leadership.” Abassi is in Washington, D.C., this week to receive the Fairness Award presented by the Global Fairness Initiative. Solidarity Center ally Myrtle Witbooi, general secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, is a co-recipient of the award.

In October, the Nobel Committee recognized the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet—comprised of the (UGTT); the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers—for establishing “an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war.”

Abassi described the many hours of dialogue in the months after the 2011 Arab uprising deposed longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ushered in a period of economic and political uncertainty. As a key participant in the discussions, the UGTT succeeded in including collective bargaining rights and the right to strike in the country’s new constitution, which Tunisians approved in 2014. Through the UGTT’s efforts, the constitution also enshrines many more fundamental social and economic rights for Tunisians.

The Tunisian union movement has been in the forefront of the struggle for democracy and social equality since its formation in 1946. Following the country’s independence from colonial rule in 1956, the organization played a key role in establishing a road map for national development that made Tunisia the most advanced economy in the Arab Maghreb.

In the months after the 2011 uprising, the UGTT employed direct action when mass mobilization was needed to shore up democratic principles like women’s rights and freedom of speech, all top priorities for Tunisian unions.

“Ever since its founding, the UGTT went very much beyond the traditional role of labor unions,” pushing for freedom and democracy and inclusive participation of all civil society in governance, Abassi said.

This is the second consecutive year that worker rights activists and Solidarity Center allies have been honored with a Nobel Peace Prize. Last year Kailash Satyarthi, head of the Global March against Child Labor, shared the prize with girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai.

In 2012, the UGTT received the AFL-CIO’s 2012 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award along with the labor federation of Bahrain, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, for their mobilization of thousands of people in their countries to carry forward a message of social justice during the 2011 uprisings.