Anti-strike Decree undermines Fiji’s kitemarks
The military dictatorship that runs Fiji has responded to the prospect of a strike over pay in the wood chip industry by reclassifying it – as well as public services like local government, fire and the airports – under the Essential National Industries Decree (ENID), preventing unions from representing their members in the industry. That breaches two of the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO): workers’ the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The action by Fiji’s government, announced by the Attorney General on 18 December, is a slap in the face for the governments who have fallen for Prime Minister Bainanarama’s claim to be restoring democracy, and it could pave the way for Fiji’s export industries to lose their ethical kitemarks.
Despite not being formally announced yet, employers at several wood companies were clearly in the know about the extension of the Decree, announcing a 10% wage increase to ‘compensate’ workers for taking their rights away – less than they were seeking by using those rights. A union strike ballot at Tropik Wood, interrupted by the announcement, was said to be on the brink of delivering an overwhelming vote for action despite employer claims of worker sabotage refuted by the union.
The original 2011 Decree – which covered industries like telecoms and hotels – was condemned by the ILO and more recently by Amnesty International, who have joined the international trade union movement’s call for a Commission of Enquiry into Fiji. The latest extension means that pretty much only sugar remains “non-essential”, and rumours are rife that it will be covered in the New Year. The timing means that the ILO Governing Body in March will be under increasing pressure to establish the Commission of Enquiry.
The extension of ENID to cover the wood chip industry should cause problems for the classification of wood chips under the Forest Stewardship Council, which requires adherence to the ILO fundamental conventions. And extending the Decree to cover sugar would surely jeopardise Fiji sugar’s Fairtrade status, too.