Obama bans US imports of slave-produced goods

Source: Associated Press

Reported by: MARTHA MENDOZA

President Barack Obama signed a bill Wednesday that includes a provision banning U.S. imports of fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia, gold mined by children in Africa and garments sewn by abused women in Bangladesh, closing a loophole in an 85-year-old tariff law that has failed to keep products of forced and child labor out of America.

An expose by The Associated Press last year found Thai companies ship seafood to the U.S. that was caught and processed by trapped and enslaved workers. As a result of the reports, more than 2,000 trapped fishermen have been rescued, more than a dozen alleged traffickers arrested and millions of dollars’ worth of seafood and vessels seized.

Until now, U.S. customs law banning imports of items produced by forced or child labor had gone largely unenforced because of two words: “consumptive demand” — if there was not sufficient supply to meet domestic demand, imports were allowed regardless of how they were produced.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who offered the amendment eliminating that exception, said Wednesday his office is already asking U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure they begin enforcing the new rules when the law takes effect in 15 days.

“It’s embarrassing that for 85 years, the United States let products made with forced labor into this country, and closing this loophole gives the U.S. an important tool to fight global slavery,” he said.

Campaign for Unions

The Fiji Times

Felix Chaudhary

IN a bid to ensure all workers in the country have the ability to join a union, the Fiji Trades Union Congress has embarked on an organising campaign.

General secretary Felix Anthony reassured non-unionised sectors that the FTUC would work towards embracing them to address any issues workers in smaller businesses and organisations were facing.

“We want all workers to join unions or we will help them form their own,” Mr Anthony said.

“We will also advertise in the media to advise workers of their rights to join a union and to collective bargaining.”

Mr Anthony said a team from FTUC visited workers at the Lautoka Hospital on Friday to advise them of their rights and responsibilities in the workplace.

“The team also spoke to them about joining unions.”

He also said he was keen to hold discussions with other trade union umbrella organisations in a bid to further unite and strengthen the trade union movement in the country.

“However, we intend to do this with legitimate unions and not splinter groups who register as unions.”

The FTUC is recognised by the International Labour Organization and International Trades Union Congress as the workers representative in Fiji.

Government, however, has made known that only 30 per cent of workers in the country belonged to a union.

Employment, Industrial Relations and Productivity Minister Semi Koroilavesau said the remaining 70 per cent were not affiliated to any union.

He said they were mainly from the informal sector but represented the overwhelming majority of workers in the country.

Labour Review Outcome

PRESS RELEASE NO. 84-02/16

Labour Review Outcome

The Fiji Trades Union Congress has jointly signed an implementation report to the Governing Body of ILO. The Report is required under the Tripartite Agreement signed by the Parties in March, 2015. The Report was signed after lengthy negotiations between the FTUC, FCEF and Government. This report is based on the Employment Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 and the other matters agreed to in negotiations. To clarify the whole issue of the Complaint to ILO on the Freedom of Association under Article 26 of the ILO Constitution, I list out the achievements.

  1. Repeal of the Essential Industries Decree – This Decree denied workers the right to belong to Trade Unions to represent them, to defend them, and terminated all grievances existing at the time. This Decree empowered the Employers to impose unilaterally terms and conditions of employment. It created the Bargaining Units to replace Trade Unions. All these rights have been restored.
  2. Repeal of the Employment Relations (Amendment) Decree 2011. This Decree excluded all Civil Servants from the ERP. This meant that Civil Servants had no recourse to their grievances and disputes, no collective bargaining or any rights.The Repeal now brings all civil servants within the ambit of the ERP once again and includes right to collective bargaining and recourse to the disputes procedures amongst all other rights.
  3. Section 75 of ERP amended to include race, culture, sex, gender identity and expression, religion and pregnancy are added as prohibited grounds of discrimination.
  4. Section 78 of ERP amended to include “opinions or belief” at work as a ground for discrimination for rates of remuneration.
  5. Section 79 of ERP is amended for greater clarity and does no longer differentiate between male and female workers.
  6. Section 80 is amended to ensure that if there is any remuneration differential due to any grounds of prohibited discrimination, then this must be corrected to ensure equal pay for equal work.
  7. Section 119 of the ERP is amended to allow any 7 workers in a workplace to form a union. It also allows workers to join more than one union if the worker is employed by two different employers.
  8. Section 127 of the ERP is amended to reduce from 6 months to 3 months the time required by a worker to be eligible to become a union officer. This Section also now allows an officer of a registered trade union to be an officer of another union as well. This restriction is now removed.
  9. Section 128 of ERP is amended to now require 10% of financial members of the Union to request an inspection of the minutes or financial records of a Union. Previously, the Registrar would do that on his own accord.
  10. Section 170 of the ERP is now amended to read that if the Permanent Secretary does not act upon a report of a dispute within 30 days, it would deem to have been accepted.
  11. Section 250 of ERP is amended to remove any imprisonment for any unlawful strike and substituted by a fine.
  12. Restoration of all check off. The Employers will verify with employees on whether they belong to a union.
  13. Reduction of period of strike notice from 28 days to 14 days.
  14. Reinstatement of individual grievances which were discontinued by the ENI Decree and the ERP Amendment Decree 2011 shall be reinstated and determined by the Arbitration Court for expeditious adjudication.
  15. Invitation to the ILO to provide technical assistance to determine the list of essential services and industries.
  16. Removal of the bargaining units and allowing workers to form or join trade unions freely.
  17. Amend Section 191X and 191 BC from the ERP Amendment Act 2015 to allow parties to determine representation of their choice in disputes and before the Tribunal.
  18. Any worker who was terminated during the period of the ENI Decree shall have the right to challenge the termination through the Arbitration Court within 28 days from the date of the new law coming into force. The Court shall have the power to award compensation of up to $25,000 for unfair, wrong or unjust terminations.
  19. Any trade union that was deregistered as a result of the ENI Decree shall be entitled to be re-registered without payment of fees. This must be done within 7 days of the law coming into force.

Subject to the implementation of all the above, the parties have requested the Governing Body to discontinue to pursue the Unions complaint on Article 26.

The parties also agreed that ERAB will continue with the review of the labour laws that remain pending to ensure full compliance with all conventions ratified by Fiji.

The parties have agreed that the amendments agreed to recently, would go before the Cabinet on Tuesday 2nd February 2016 and to Parliament on Monday 8th February 2016. We expect the new amendments agreed to become law sometime that week. Government has assured us that the matter will be expedited.

The FTUC calls upon all workers who had grievances discontinued by the ENI Decree or the ERP Amendment Decree 2011 to immediately get in touch with their unions or the Ministry of Labour to have their matters reinstated.

Any worker who was terminated during the period of the ENI Decree must get in touch with their unions or the Ministry to make an application to the Arbitration Court for compensation. There is a 28 day time limit from the date this matter becomes law which is likely around the 11th or 12th of February 2106.

We also call upon unions that were deregistered to apply immediately for registration. No fee will be applicable and you have 7 days from when the law becomes effective.

The FTUC calls upon all Unions to now submit their log of claims to ensure that all workers come under a collective agreement rather than individual contracts. This is the right of any worker to choose whether to belong to a Collective Agreement or an Individual Contract.

The restoration of these rights means that we no longer need to pursue the complaint of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining under Article 26 with ILO. Some may argue that the FTUC has not pursued the Political Parties Decree which forbids Union Officials the right to take up political office and activity. We remain seriously concerned and will pursue this matter. However, we believe the restoration of rights of workers must take priority over the rights of Union Officials.

We shall continue to persevere.

Felix Anthony 

National Secretary