ILO gets tough with Fiji over workers’ rights while Commonwealth gives in
The fortnight-long tripartite ILO Governing Body meeting in Geneva that ends tomorrow has got tough with Fiji over its abuse of workers’ rights, under pressure from global unions, supported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
It’s good news that the ILO has insisted on its ‘direct contacts mission’ being re-admitted to Fiji in time to report back to the Governing Body meeting in November. But it’s even better that, if the regime again refuses to allow the mission in (or, as they did last time, ejects it before it completes its work), or if the ‘contact mission’ finds that the regime is indeed in breach of its ILO obligations, the November Governing Body “should appoint a Commission of Inquiry” into Fiji. That’s the first step towards referring the dictatorship to the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses.
The main abuses include arresting and harassing trade union leaders like Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) President Dan Urai (who was arrested most recently in January for organising an allegedly illegal strike, but saw the charges against him dismissed earlier this month after a global trade union solidarity campaign); and even worse, taking steps to destroy collective bargaining and trade union membership under the mis-named Essential National Industries Decree (ENID), which requires union officials to be employees at the workplace they represent (a favourite anti-union trick, which leaves union reps wide open to being victimised and sacked.) Some of the latest industries to be declared “essential” were the mahogany and pine industries!
This is all the more positive from the ILO because several Governments have recently started stepping back from criticisms of the military dictatorship, in a doomed attempt to encourage the regime to reform itself and hold genuinely free and fair elections. As Fijian unions and the global trade union movement have argued, Fiji’s dictators are in fact merely preparing the ground to stage an electoral coup and remain in power regardless, but with international protests silenced by a sham election. The Public Order Amendment Decree (POAD) and restrictions on political parties which set absurdly high membership thresholds for registration (which the new union-backed political party nevertheless met) and bans union officials from taking part.
Despite these abuses, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, for example, has relaxed its suspension of Fiji, opening the way for the country to take part in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer. It’s alleged that not being represented at the Games was the element of suspension from the Commonwealth that Fiji’s sports-mad military leaders cared about most! The new right-wing Australian Government has been cosying up to Fiji’s dictators in the most sickening manner and tried to torpedo the call for a Commission of Inquiry at the ILO.
Even the formerly robust criticisms of the UK Government have been toned down lately (although we understand they played a constructive role at the ILO) and it’s now time for the global trade union movement to build on the ILO decision and step up the campaign to keep Fiji firmly in the public eye and on the diplomatic naughty step.