44TH Biennial Delegates Conference of Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC): Address by Dan Cunniah, Director of Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV)

The FTUC 44TH Biennial Delegates Conference, 12TH May, 2012 at the Tanoa International, Hotel, Nadi.

Statement | Nadi, Fiji | 12 May 2012

Bula Vinaka!

The President, Brother Daniel Urai,
National Secretary, Brother Felix Anthony,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps in Fiji,
Leaders from the Political Parties,
Civil Society Leaders,
Colleagues from ITUC/AP, RENGO, ACFTU and ILO.

Distinguished Delegates, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am deeply honored to be here once again for your 44th Biennial Delegates Conference and I bring you the greetings of Mr. Juan Somavia, Director General of the ILO.

First of all, let me express my heartfelt sympathies for the damages and destruction brought about by the widespread flooding around the country in January and March of this year. I share with the union members and their families the hardship felt by them as a result of the disaster. Let us hope that the recovery is not too painful. We know that all such calamities take years of efforts and costs to recover from them.

I congratulate the FTUC leadership on choosing an extremely important theme for this Conference, “Workers’ Solidarity for Social Justice”. I am acutely aware of your on-going struggle. It is well documented. Trade union leaders have been the targets of state organized harassment. There are a number of Decrees that have been put in place to weaken the trade unions. The range of draconian decrees, propaganda against FTUC and its leaders, victimization, the abuse of rights through to the disruption of meetings up till late last year and wanton arrests to try and break up the solidarity of union members has been unprecedented for a country which had already experienced three coup-d’états. The FTUC National President Brother Daniel Urai continues to be victimized and he has two cases pending in courts. There are still some restrictions on his free movement within and outside the country. However, it is gratifying to note that he has been allowed to travel abroad to attend the IUF Congress, but he has to surrender his passport upon his return.

The Government of Fiji is a member of the ILO and it has ratified Conventions Nos. 87 and 98 that provide for the right to organize and to collective bargaining. Under these Conventions it is the duty of the Government to protect the rights of trade union leaders and I urge it to take immediate steps to implement the Recommendations of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association.

It is unfortunate to note that Fiji as a member of the United Nations and the Commonwealth, though suspended has failed in its obligations to promote and protect human and trade union rights.

The Director-General of the ILO has directly intervened four times in this regard in the last 18 months. A high level mission led by our colleague Guy Ryder, Deputy Director General came to Fiji last year. In his conclusions he had urged the Government, “to ensure that legitimate trade union activities in Fiji are allowed to proceed without interference from any source, and free from any type of intimidation, in line with international labour standards”. The situation has not changed since then.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has considered Fiji’s case three times in the last two years with additional and new information of abuse of trade union rights provided each time.

The Committee is due to examine Fiji’s breaches of trade union rights under the relevant ILO Conventions in May this year prior to the International Labour Conference to be held next month in Geneva.

Let us hope that Fiji in appointing its delegation to the International Labour Conference will take note of the Credentials Committee report of June 2011 which is unambiguous. The delegation will be incomplete if a worker delegate from the FTUC is not included. In my discussion with the Minister of Labour on Wednesday I had very clearly explained to him the requirements in the ILO Constitution. The choice of the workers’ delegate lies with the FTUC and the Government cannot impose a person of its choice as representative of the FTUC. The Government should do everything to avoid facing a challenge to the composition of its delegation by the Credentials Committee. Both the Minister of Labour and the Attorney General undertook to consider seriously these arguments. I am glad to inform you that the FTUC will be requested next week to submit to the Ministry of Labour the name of its representative to the ILC. I wish to thank both the Minister and the Attorney General for their understanding and cooperation on this matter.

Then there is the issue of the ILO call for a direct contacts mission. Amongst the recommendations made by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association in November, 2011 it had asked the Fiji government that, “given the seriousness of the complainant’s allegations and the absence of a complete picture of the situation on the ground, the Committee urges the Government to accept a direct contacts mission to the country in order to clarify the facts and assist the Government in finding, together with the social partners, appropriate solutions in conformity with freedom of association principles.” The ILO is still waiting for the Government to accept and allow the mission into Fiji. I raised this matter both with the Minister of Labour and the Attorney-General on Wednesday. They assured me that they are taking this request seriously into consideration and a decision will be communicated to the ILO soon and possibly before the next ILC.

Earlier the Committee on Freedom of Association had recommended that ILO could assist in facilitating a dialogue process whereby the unions, employers and government could come together to discuss and find solutions to the problems. I believe that these change in attitude from the Government is a signal that they want to engage in the Social Dialogue with the Social Partners.

In December last year in Kyoto, Japan the ILO Asia Pacific regional meeting attended by Governments and social partners unanimously adopted a resolution on the trade union rights situation in Fiji. The resolution called on the Government of Fiji to accept the recommendations of the ILO Committee of Freedom of Association and accept a direct contacts mission. Furthermore it had asked for the uplifting of the then travel restrictions placed on Felix Anthony and it had asked that all charges against Daniel Urai be dropped.

The decrees promulgated have been targeted at severely restricting the rights of unions. The effect of some crucial decrees include the denial of trade union rights in the public sector, the cancellation of unions in the so called essential industries where no full time union official can be elected and where workers can only form bargaining units. I am told that two employee groups have applied to the Prime Minister’s office for approval to form bargaining units some five (5) months ago without receiving even an acknowledgement to their applications.

Furthermore, the main challenges faced by workers in Fiji, as I note includes rising income inequalities, growing wage polarization, limited social protection, rising informal sector, restrictions on freedom of association and collective bargaining. I have been informed that some 2500 jobs in public service will be lost shortly under the public sector reform. As I understand the corporatized Roads Authority of Fiji will be mostly sub-contracted and outsourced. This will come at a huge cost to the safety and health of workers, the respect for trade union rights and security to employment.

More effective policies are needed to protect decent work and to promote collective bargaining. Precarious employment is surging, leaving many workers, particularly women and youth, without social protection, unable to organize and enjoy basic job security. A conducive environment of decent work needs to be created to reduce vulnerable employment and build a social protection floor. Fiji which is part of the smaller Pacific Islands sub-region economies faces chronic problems of unemployment, poverty and low investments. The economy is led by services, as tourism earnings are more and more relied upon. The sole development of services sectors is not sufficient to address the development challenges and to achieve inclusive growth.

In Europe the recent May Day celebrations saw huge numbers of workers and their families come out to protest against a wave of austerity measures that countries are adopting in response to the economic crisis.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, in which young Americans gathered in New York under the slogan, “We are the 99%”, referring to the widening gap between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the 99% of the population could be seen as a precursor of more demonstrations by young unemployed people.

Your conference is held at a time when the world is going through difficult economic times. The current economic and social crisis is affecting developing as well as the developed economies.

Workers are facing many challenges. The economic policies adopted by the Government in furtherance of the globalization agenda have caused great hardship to workers and their families. Rights at work starting with the enabling rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining are under attack.

Governments continue to breach Conventions 87 and 98 and many problems remain with the effective implementation of these and other ILO Conventions.

Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, remain high due to defective labour market policies. The World Bank and IMF have been supporting such policies which call for harsh austerity measures targeted at workers and their families. An estimated 210 million people are out of work worldwide.

The labour market and employment policies, in conjunction with an enhanced role of labour market institutions are required to respond to socially and economically regressive and iniquitous outcomes of globalization and economic decline.

Colleagues, in order to strengthen the capacity of the Fijian trade union movement to face these daunting challenges, I strongly urge the FTUC and the FICTU to seriously consider joining together in order to build a strong and inclusive unified trade union organization, open to other individual unions like the Nursing Association. ACTRAV stands ready to provide its assistance to achieve this objective

I have also had discussions with some representatives of foreign missions in Fiji on the trade union and other human rights situation. I have briefed them on the position of the ILO in this regard.

I would like to support the stand taken by your President Bro.Daniel Urai that FTUC will involve itself in the current Constitution-making process. We welcome the appointment of the Constitutional Review Commission on the basis that it would be fair, transparent inclusive with the objective of returning Fiji to democratic rule in 2014.

I thank you for your attention and also wish to record my appreciation to the many delegates whom I have met over the last couple of days in a cordial atmosphere.

May the rest of this 44TH Biennial Conference be completed with fruitful outcomes.