The Director-General of the ILO, Mr. Juan Somavia, expressed deep regret at the decision of the Government of Fiji to proceed with the publication of regulations to implement the Essential Industries (Employment) Decree which was gazetted in late July.
The decision, announced on 9 September, designates eleven named corporations in the financial, telecommunications, civil aviation, and public utilities industries as falling under the application of the Decree with very far-reaching implications for the exercise of trade union rights. They include the ending of existing collective agreements, the designation of new bargaining agents which may not be trade unions, and the possible imposition of compulsory arbitration of disputes and other limits on the right to strike. The Attorney-General has said that other industries could be added to the list at a later date.
Mr. Somavia’s statement follows the visit of a High-Level ILO secretariat mission to Fiji in August which had raised the Organization’s concerns about the Decree with the Government and advised it on the negative implications for Fiji’s international obligations under ratified ILO Conventions.
He said that “By going ahead with this Decree the Government has demonstrated the same lack of concern for the views of the international community as it has for the rights and aspirations of its own people. What is really essential for Fiji is that it change course now. That means reversing this and other restrictive labour decrees, a return to dialogue with trade unions and employers, an end to assaults on and harassment of trade unionists, and the immediate restoration of basic civil liberties.”
He highlighted the importance of the communiqué issued by the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting (Auckland, New Zealand, 7-8 September) which expressed their “continuing deep concern at the deteriorating human rights situation and serious political and economic challenges facing the people of Fiji”. The ILO had presented a submission on Fiji to the Forum in which it warned of “the danger of a serious degradation of the situation in the near future”.
Mr. Somavia added that “the Government must understand that meeting these challenges, and the success of the reforms to which it claims to be committed, cannot be achieved through the denial of fundamental rights. The people of Fiji deserve better.”