Workers' rights

Key note address at the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) 48th Biennial Delegates Conference - Building Workers' Rights through Organizing

By Mr Matin Karimli, Director, ILO Office for Pacific Island Countries at the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) 48th Biennial Delegates Conference - Building Workers' Rights through Organizing

Statement | Suva, Fiji | 29 August 2020
The President of FTUC, Brother Daniel Urai and the vice presidents,National Secretary for FTUC, Brother. Felix Anthony, National Executive Board Members of the FTUC, Dear Union Representatives – brothers and sisters, Ladies and Gentlemen … Ni sa bula vinaka & Namaste.

As the Director for the ILO’s Office for Pacific Island Countries, I am very pleased and honoured to address the 48th Biennial Delegates Congress. I understand that it has been 18 months of ‘marriage’ since the merger of FTUC and FICTU into a bigger body representing the workers of Fiji. I congratulate you all warmly and trust that the ‘honeymoon’ phase has passed well and you have now rolled up your sleeves to make the partnership/marriage work. 

Already you have shown that you are living up to today’s theme on Building Workers’ Rights through Organising because you have successfully organised yourselves from two entities into one. I am sure that you will agree with me that the current pandemic COVID-19 has shown to all of us the critical role of organising, building, partnerships and solidarity. I also wish to congratulate you for completing your Rapid Assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on workers and work places.

Now you have the upper hand of influencing policy with an evidence-based report. My team looks forward to supporting you on some of the recommendations that emanate from your Rapid Assessment. Ladies and Gentlemen, this morning, in keeping with today’s theme, I would like to focus on ‘Organising’, mainly because you are already experts at Building Workers’ Rights.

So, what is Organising and does it matter?

As a non-native speaker, I checked the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, which defines organising as
  1. to form into a coherent unity or functioning whole
  2. to persuade an associate in an organization to unionize or organize workers
  3. to arrange by systematic planning and united effort
So, I say that organising is critical if we are to build workers’ rights. As FTUC, you have an administrative structure, you plan systematically and work together in a united effort, and you convince and persuade workers to unionize or organise into a coherent whole.

Moreover, from an industrial relations point of view, organising demonstrates the interplay between two distinct logics of labour’s collective action: on the one hand, workers coming together, usually at their place of work, entrusting the union to represent their interests and, on the other, social bargaining in which the trade union builds labour’s interests from the top down with management.

Does Organising matter?

Indeed, Organizing Matters! For the ILO, Organising is a building block. Our Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (1949) is one of eight ILO fundamental conventions. It complements the general principle of freedom of association in Convention No. 87 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (1949). Organising is fundamental to the ILO because it is a building block for social dialogue, tripartism and tripartite values. The right to organise and bargain collectively without duress, enables everyone to jointly explore and develop long-term strategies so that together, they can achieve better working conditions, higher wages, improved employee relations and increased productivity. This cycle in turn balances efficiency, effectiveness and equity, and realises a sustainable balance between job flexibility, job security and job sustainability.

As you all know, last year ILO launched its Centenary Declaration to guide the Organization through the turn of its new century. We call it the Human-Centred Approach to the Future of Work. The Report calls for 3 interventions:
  1. Increase investment in people’s capabilities
  2. Increase investment in institutions of work and
  3. Increase investment in decent and sustainable work.
Having said that, I highly recommend that as you organise yourselves, increase your investment in workers’ capabilities – you are after all the people who do the work and know exactly what goes in it. This is also includes getting a strong voice within national institutions of work.

Finally, increase your investments in decent and sustainable work by assisting your members that have been made redundant or lost their jobs to find or create better, decent and sustainable jobs. It goes without saying that genuine stability and productive harmony at the workplace can only be assured when there are effective channels for workers’ voices to be heard and in interaction with Employers and Government.

Trade unions must truly represent workers’ voices and interests in an orderly and regular dialogue with Employers, in the form of collective bargaining and daily engagements. Trade Unions must also represent Workers in the tripartite platforms and in the meetings with Government to influence policy decisions.


In closing, I would like to reiterate that ILO, with its unique structure and goals – labour standards and tripartism; social protection and social dialogue – stands ready to meet its responsibilities. I want to acknowledge you, encourage you and express my appreciation to you brothers and sisters. It goes without saying that the ILO’s influence and chances of success depend enormously on the strength of the national trade unions and your affiliations to the international trade union movement globally that so often displays solidarity at its best.

Solidarity to you because you know the problems and the challenges … solidarity to you because you have the solutions too. Yes, Solidarity marches on forever! May I wish you all the best in today’s 48th Biennial Congress discussions and congratulate you for completing the Rapid Assessment on COVID-19 and thank you sincerely for your attention and invitation!

Follow Matin Karimli, Director, ILO Office for Pacific Island Countries on twitter here: @MatinKarimli