20 Jun 2013

ITUC makes call for major investigation on Fiji

5:09 pm on 20 June 2013

The world's largest umbrella union body says it is expecting arguments on Thursday with the Fiji government with the tabling of its demand for an international commission of inquiry into Fiji.

The country's trade union situation is fourth on the agenda at a meeting of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva.

The International Trade Union Confederation's General Secretary, Sharan Burrow told Sally Round a commission of inquiry is one of the highest investigative procedures the ILO has.

SHARON BURROW: There's been many other cases - take Burma for example - that have led to serious international sanctions and international condemnation. It's another tactic to say there must be a capacity for the ILO to investigate first-hand, on the ground, the impact of the decrees, and, of course, to try and negotiate with the government. We don't hold out much hope, to be honest. This military dictatorship shows no sign of concern for international law or standards. But nevertheless we won't ever give up on the workers in Fiji. We'll fight using every tactic possible.

SALLY ROUND: Why is this Fiji issue so prominent on the agenda of the ILO and also on your agenda?

SB: Well, Fiji is a major issue for us. It's one of our seven most critical countries. We call it our Countries At Risk programme. Because in the union movement there, workers in their workplaces are denied fundamental rights and freedoms - freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, the imposition of independent contracts, the atrocities that have seen union leaders arrested, even jailed. These things are not the behaviour and they're not the regulatory framework for a democracy. And, of course, that's not what you have there - you have the military dictatorship. But it has to end.

SR: There has been some progression, though, towards democracy. Political parties have been registered, electors have been registering, as well. Is that not enough progression for the trade union movement?

SB: It's certainly not enough for us. If you look at the constitutional of France, where the independent commission, of course, was ignored, the government tore up the draft. This is a government who is not committed to genuine international standards around democracy or around workers rights. We continue to be absolutely opposed to the behaviour of this government. The regulatory behaviour is appalling, and, of course, the oppression of workers with intimidation, arrests and imprisonment can't go on. Those issues alone would make us stand and fight alongside the Fiji trade unions. But when you consider their behaviour towards the ILO, denying senior officials entry into the country on two occasions and a farcical offer that maybe they would let them in in December, and under conditions that aren't transparent this is really insulting behaviour and it must be opposed. So we'll initiate the debate. It'll be interesting to see what will happen tomorrow. But certainly between the question of receivability, which will be on the agenda tomorrow, and a more substantive debate if that's accepted in October, then, unless the Fiji government shows that it is going to change its tune and we can't see it, then we will continue to pursue this avenue.