A Paradise but not for Fiji Workers

  • 28 July 2015
Mark Perica and Felix Anthony before the Human Rights Law and Justice Committee in Suva

Fiji is a Country evocative of tropical weather, palm trees, waves lapping against the beach, friendly locals and rugby union.  A paradise in the middle of the pacific – unless you happen to be a union worker.  The Fiji Government has produced the Employee Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 (“ERB”) and in June 2015 Mark Perica, our Senior Legal Officer, was asked by the ACTU to attend before a Parliamentary Committee in Suva which was taking submissions on the Bill.  By way of a short political history, there was a military coup in 2006 which installed Rear Admiral Bainimarama.  The Rear Admiral installed himself as leader on a promise to “restore democracy”. 

In December 2007 he issued a series of labour decrees which included:

  • a prohibition on unions engaging in “political activity”;
  • the unilateral termination of collective bargains, and
  • the cancellation of the registration of unions in “Essential National Industries” and the public sector.

The Decrees also set up in house unions which could not organise beyond a single employer.  These measures were backed up with acts of physical violence against union leaders, persecution, police harassment and surveillance. 

Elections were held in 2014 and Admiral Bainimarama became Prime Minister.  The newly elected government made promises that it would repeal the decrees and an agreement was signed in Geneva by the head of the International Labour Organisation, the Attorney General of Fiji, the head of the Fiji TUC and the peak Fiji employer body promising the new parliament would enact fair labour laws.

In March this year the Fiji Government produced the Employee Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 (“ERB”)  The Government had met its promise to repeal the decrees, only problem was, the effect of the decrees lived on in the text of the Bill.

Mark provided lengthy written submissions on behalf of the FijiTUC and appeared before the Committee explaining the Bill seriously breached Fiji’s international labour and human rights obligations.  Unsurprisingly, the Committee reported in July and backed in the ERB and it was made law.  The International Labour Organisation is very concerned that it has been duped by the Fiji Government and is considering setting up a Commission of Inquiry into labour repression in Fiji.  This is a very serious step – there have only been eight such enquiries in the 96 year history of the ILO.

Australian Unions express solidarity with our Fiji comrades and pledge our support to publicise their plight and to assist them in their struggle for fair labour laws.