Undermining fundamental rights at work in Fiji
The Fijian military regime has finally produced its draft constitution. It’s several months late. It’s not – as previously announced – going to be reviewed by a constituent assembly. And it’s not so much a statement of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Fijian people as an extended essay about how those rights and freedoms will be taken away!
Although the draft promises freedom of association, freedom to bargain collectively, the right to a decent income, freedom of speech and religion, sub-sections of each clause set out – sometimes in comprehensive detail – how those freedoms and rights can be taken away whenever the government of the day feels like it.
Fiji TUC leader Felix Anthony has said:
“The Regime’s new Draft Constitution aims to legitimise all draconian Decrees it has imposed on the people of Fiji. The Constitution empowers the current regime and future governments to impose laws that could drastically impact rights normally enjoyed by people in democratic states.”
The military dictatorship has seen Fiji plunge deeper into poverty, suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, and censured by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), whose mission to Fiji was summarily ejected. It agreed to review the constitution as part of the return to democracy, but ended up shredding and burning the first attempt by respected legal expert Professor Ghai.
Then the regime said they would put their own draft to a constituent assembly made up of hand-picked political parties, NGOs and civil society groups. The FTUC decided to establish their own political party in January. In response, the regime introduced new rules preventing trade union officials and employer representatives from holding party office or standing for election (those decrees have also been incorporated in the draft constitution). It also announced new rules for registering political parties, which looked so draconian that only one party would qualify. As it happens, it appears that none have, leaving Fiji, barely months away from a promised General Election, a no-party state!
The latest constitution contains lots of flowery language – it even guarantees equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation – but lots of stings in the tail. And there is a staggering clause right at the end which insists that the regime shall be immune from prosecution for anything they did – from the coup right up to the ‘return to democracy’. They have even made that clause unamendable, even by referendum.
To give you an idea of what is proposed for unions, here is the clause on freedom of association. Section 1 is quite good, really. Section 2, not so much…
Freedom of association
19.––(1) Every person has the right to freedom of association.
(2) A law may limit, or may authorise the limitation of, the right mentioned in subsection (1) ––
(a) in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or the orderly conduct of elections;
(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of others;
(c) for the purpose of imposing reasonable restrictions on the holders of public offices and members of a disciplined force in order to secure their impartial service;
(d) for the purposes of regulating the registration of trade unions, or of any federation, congress, council or affiliation of trade unions, or of any federation, congress, council or affiliation of employers;
(e) for the purposes of regulating collective bargaining processes, providing mechanisms for the resolution of employment disputes and grievances, and regulating strikes and lockouts; or
(f) for the purposes of regulating essential services and industries, in the overall interests of the Fijian economy and the citizens of Fiji.