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ANALYSIS: Who Governs Fiji?

ANALYSIS: Who Governs Fiji?
July 18
08:58 2015

Who governs Fiji? Is it the International Labour Organisation or the Fiji Trades Union Congress?

At any rate, whose interests do they represent? The workers or the trade unionists?

These are legitimate questions that need to be asked in light of the continued standoff between the FTUC and Government.

Last week, Parliament passed the Employment Relations Promulgation Amendment Act 2015, which contains new labour reforms. Before that it was discussed in the Tripartite Forum of the Employment Relations Advisory Board. Then it went to the Justice, Law and Human Rights Parliamentary Standing Committee for further consultations. The committee then presented its report to Parliament.

This is the normal democratic process. The FTUC has publicly stated that it rejects the new law accusing the Government of ignoring its obligations to the Tripartite Agreement and violating the ILO core conventions on freedom of association and right to bargaining and strike.

It argues that the new law still carries remnants of the Essential National Industry Decree. It also argues that the bargaining units in the law have been imported from ENI decree and go against the interests of trade unions.

 

Congress stand

FTUC’s general secretary Felix Anthony said he wanted to meet with Government after the last ILO meeting in Geneva but got no response about the dates even though Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama publicly extended the olive branch and invited them to come to the negotiating table.

Moreover the FTUC is contending what’s the point of dialogue when the ERP Amendment Act is now the law. Before it was passed there were opportunities for dialogue but no real attempts were made except that public invitation from Mr Bainimarama which the FTUC brushed aside.

No one in Government seems to know about the letter from Mr Anthony.

Mr Anthony is grandstanding. If he was really serious he would have knocked on Government’s door after the last Geneva meeting.

His confrontational approach to negotiations is evident and he has said he will not back down.

“We put Government on notice that FTUC will vigorously pursue these matters at ILO. The responsibility of the outcome must be borne by the A-G and his Government,” he said.

This statement has serious implications. It means that from now onwards, the FTUC will call the shots. The outcome, whatever it is, will be Government’s responsibility. All it has to do is stay away from talks.

In simple terms if this impasse is not resolved by November, then the ILO will implement its warning to order a Commission of Inquiry into Fiji. This will lead to sanctions that are bound to have a devastating impact on the economy. Our economic growth of more than four per cent GDP will get a king hit and jobs will be the first casualty. It’s a frightening prospect for this nation.

It will then become the responsibility of everyone, not just Government alone.

The FTUC will not escape the fact that it is equally culpable. No amount of reasoning will justify a damaging end result. The workers will have to face the inevitable. They could lose jobs if the economy plunges and their families will suffer. Any crisis will seriously damage investor and business confidence

 

Can’t please everyone

The Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, Jioji Konrote, alluded to something very important during the debate over the ERP Amendment Bill in Parliament.

He said Government could not please everyone. The new law was designed to protect the national interest by a FijiFirst Government which was given the mandate by the people in last year’s general election to govern this country for four years.

If people are not happy with Government’s performance, they can show it in the 2018 general election. This is what democracy is all about.

The FTUC is exercising its democratic right in disagreeing with the new law. The tripartite partners, the Government, employers and the trade unions, have spent countless hours talking about labour reforms.

Obviously, the Government has been unable to convince the FTUC to accept the new labour reforms. It then decided to move forward with the new law because it would protect the economy and the national interest.

This raises the question of accountability and responsibility. How far do you push an agenda before you realise that it will cause more harm than good?

 

ILO role

The ILO has an important role to play. It’s incumbent on its officials to think seriously  about the implications of their decision.

Any decision that challenges the law and potentially can damage the economy, is literally an attack on our sovereignty –  our rights to run our own affairs. The ILO has an office in Suva and it should be aware of the progress the country has made since last year’s general election.

Last month in Geneva, the Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, was made to sit beside the Guatemala Ambassador and answer human rights questions. It’s an insult to our intelligence to be grouped with Guatemala, well known for its human rights abuses. Attacks and threats against human rights defenders are common, significantly hampering human rights work throughout the country.  Acts of violence and intimidation against trade unionists endanger freedom of assembly and association, and the right to organise and bargain collectively.

Journalists, especially those covering corruption and drug trafficking, also face threats and attacks.

None of this happens here. But the ILO  appears to have a heavy handed approach when it deals with vulnerable small economies like Fiji compared to its attitude towards more developed and powerful economies.

The ERP Amendment Act guarantees freedom of association and collective bargaining. What FTUC is bitter about is the bargaining units which offers workers an alternative.  Isn’t it great when workers are given options? Unions doing an excellent job of looking after its workers, should have nothing to worry about. Their members will not desert them.

 

Union monopoly

The FTUC appears to have a monopoly on worker views in Fiji although it and its rival, the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, only represent  fewer than 30 per cent of workers.

The other question is why the FICTU is not part of the Tripartite Forum in the Employment Relations Advisory Board (ERAB). In order for ERAB to be consistent with the Government policy of inclusivity, it requires the participation of FICTU and some representatives from the non-unionised bloc which constitutes the majority of workers. This majority could be involved in joining bargaining units and have a collective voice.

The new change is great for workers. It acts as a watchdog on trade unionists to ensure they fulfill their responsibilities. Under the law they are public officers not politicians as some of them appear to be.

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 

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