Unions call for investigation into Fiji labour rights
International unions are calling for a UN investigation into Fiji's labour rights, following the Sheraton strikes in Nadi.
What began as a simple industrial dispute on New Year's eve in Nadi could become the catalyst for a United Nations inquiry into Fiji's labour rights, if trade unions have their way.
The International Trade Union Confederation is calling for an inquiry by the International Labour Organisation after six unionists were arrested for the strike that was declared illegal by the regime, but the charges have now been dropped.
Jamie Tahana reports.
About 300 employees walked off the job at the Sheraton hotels in Nadi on New Year's eve, but an interim settlement was reached within hours and everyone went back to work. But the labour minister, Jone Usamate, declared the strike illegal, saying it breached Section 175 of the Employment Relations Act, which decrees that no strike will take place without providing a notice of secret ballot to the registrar. As a result, six people were arrested, including the President of the Fiji Trade Union Council, Daniel Urai. But in a statement released late on Monday, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde, withdrew the charges against the unionists, saying he is satisfied no offence was committed..The general secretary of the FTUC, Felix Anthony, says he doesn't know why the unionists were arrested in the first place because the hotel workers walked out themselves.
FELIX ANTHONY: The union did not call the strike, and unfortunately, the government took it upon themselves to say that the union was responsible. I think this is the question that the police and the regime need to answer. In fact, if anything at all I think Mr Urai assisted in resolving the issues.
Felix Anthony says he wouldn't be surprised if the directive for the arrests came from the top. But the Labour Minister, Jone Usamate, has rejected that suggestion, saying that his office did not direct the police to the unionists as the police do not come under his portfolio as labour minister. A spokesperson for Sheraton resorts in Fiji, and its parent company Starwood, declined requests for comment, saying the company will not be making any statement in relation to the matter. But Felix Anthony says regardless of what happened, the incidents are symptomatic of a crackdown on workers' rights by the Fiji government.
FELIX ANTHONY: What we've seen in Fiji is that every opportunity that the regime has they attempt to try and crucify the unions in this country and more recently in December we've seen them further enlarge the application of the Essential Industries Decree to cover more workers, totally denying these workers any rights.
The Belgium-based International Trade Union Confederation is the world's largest trade union confederation. In a statement on its website, it says it's calling on the ILO to approve the Commission of Inquiry on the basis of serious and systematic violations of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention. The Commission of Inquiry is a step up from a contact mission and will not need the cooperation of the Fiji government to conduct its investigations. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions says it will be supporting the bid for a Commission of Inquiry and its secretary, Peter Conway, says he hopes the New Zealand government will also get involved in taking the matter to the ILO.
PETER CONWAY: We had a situation where the International Labour Organisation went in on a mission in 2012 and they were evicted by the government before they could carry out any work. So it has to go up to another level which is why we're supporting a formal commission of inquiry into labour rights issues in Fiji and we hope the New Zealand government will be supporting that bid.
Peter Conway says the CTU is hoping to meet the New Zealand foreign minister, Murray McCully, soon. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has not responded to enquiries by Radio New Zealand International.But Jose Usamate says the Fiji government is working closely with the International Labour Organisation and would welcome an inquiry, despite an ILO mission being turned around at the border in 2012.
PETER CONWAY: We respect Fiji's signatory to a lot of ILO conventions and itnernational treaties, that's something that we respect. But we would have to look into it. We've also indicated to them that we welcome the return of the contact mission, that's something that we have been in contact with the International Labour Organisation.
The next governing meeting of the ILO is scheduled for March.
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