HRW calls for Commission of Inquiry into Fiji labour rights
Human Rights Watch is calling for the ILO to enact a Commission of Inquiry into Labour Rights in Fiji.
Human Rights Watch is calling on members of the UN International Labour Organisation to enact a Commission of Inquiry into labour rights in Fiji.
The watchdog says Labour rights in Fiji have been continually deteriorating with severe restrictions being imposed on workers and unionists in recent months.
An ILO mission was turned around at the border in 2012, but the Australian Director for Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, says a Commission of Inquiry would have much greater power.
ELAINE PEARSON: Next week the ILO will be having a meeting of its governing body and we have sent a letter to that body urging the key member states to support the establishment of a commission of inquiry on Fiji and the key member states include Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Colombia, Indonesia - a whole range of different countries. And this basically follows on from last year in June, a number of trade unions had actually urged the ILO to set up a commission of inquiry and since then we have really seen more of a deterioration in terms of labour rights in Fiji rather than an improvement.
JAMIE TAHANA: Okay, what kind of deterioration are you referring to here in labour rights?
EP: Well, it is a pretty bad record in terms of unionists being subjected to intimidation, beatings, arrests. For instance in June of last year there was pretty heavy intimidation by military and security forces at a planned protest at a sugar mill. In December of last year we also saw more legal restrictions on certain sectors ..
so for instance, various timber sectors, now also the public sector, telecoms, are all prevented from having official union representation.
JT: Now an ILO mission was sent to Fiji in 2012 but was turned around at the border. What's to prevent something like this happening again?
EP: Well, I think the stakes will be much higher if its the commission of inquiry. This isn't something the ILO does very lightly. I think in its history it has only done 11 commissions of inquiry. So I think there will be a lot more international pressure on Fiji to accept a commission and even if they didn't accept to have a commission of inquiry experts on the ground - as we have seen in other countries - it is possible to conduct an investigation through other means, if necessary.
JT: Have you had any response? What are we expecting to see come out of this ILO meeting?
EP: Well look, I think there is certainly quite a lot of support particularly from the trade union movement. We've seen trade unions in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, all supporting a commission of inquiry. I think it remains to be seen - we have just sent the letter now to the ILO members - they'll be having the discussion, I believe, sometime next week so I guess we will wait whether they do act on it and urge a commission of inquiry into freedom of association.
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