Union laws under review

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Union members and their supporters march through Nadi Town to highlight the grievances of Air Terminal Service workers. Picture: REINAL CHAND/FILE

The International Labour Organization’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations is an independent body composed of legal experts charged with examining the application of ILO Conventions and Recommendations by ILO member States worldwide.

While the Fijian Parliament passed the Employment Relations (Amendment) Bill 2023 to redefine essential services and increase time given to employees to file grievances was welcomed by the ILO, several other laws are being reviewed.

The Employment Relations Advisory Board (ERAB) is presently reviewing all laws that affect union rights and will hand over a report to the Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations.

The 112th session of the International Labour Conference is scheduled from June 3-14, 2024 will again hear a list of recommendations from the Committee of Experts and Application of Conventions and Recommendations on what Fiji needs to do to align its labour laws with ILO conventions.

To begin with, the committee notes with concern that the first report on the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190), due since 2022, has not been received from Fiji.

In addition, the committee notes that the reports due this year were not received. Six reports are now due, most of which should have included information in reply to the committee’s comments, including on fundamental conventions.

The committee firmly hopes the Fiji Government will soon submit all its reports in accordance with its constitutional obligation and will respond to the committee’s comments.

Freedom of association and protection of the right to organise convention

THE committee trusts that the Government will refrain from any undue interference in the nomination and appointment of members to the ERAB and to other tripartite bodies and will ensure that the social partners can freely designate their representatives. The committee expects the appointment of ERAB members to take place without delay so as to allow this mechanism to reconvene and meet regularly in order to pursue the labour law review and meaningfully address all outstanding matters in this regard. The committee urges the Government to take all necessary measures to continue to review the labour legislation within the reconvened ERAB. The Committee urges the Government to finalise the process of review on the basis of the tripartite-agreed matrix so the necessary amendments for bringing the legislation into full conformity with the convention may be rapidly submitted to Parliament and adopted.

Public Order (Amendment) Decree (POAD)

The committee notes that the Government simply reiterates that the POAD facilitates the maintenance of public order and that prior permission is required to ensure the carrying out of administrative functions and the provision of law enforcement officers to maintain order. While further noting that the Government points to two instances, in October 2017 and January 2018, in which the Fiji Trades Union Congress obtained a permit and undertook marches, the committee observes that, according to the FTUC, its recent requests to march from May, August and November 2019 were all refused. The International Trades Union Congress and the FTUC denounce that permission for union meetings and public gatherings continues to be arbitrarily refused and that Section 8 of the POAD has been increasingly used to interfere in, prevent and frustrate trade union meetings and assemblies. The committee urges the Government to take the necessary measures to bring Section 8 of the POAD into line with the convention by fully repealing or amending this provision so as to ensure that the right to assembly may be freely exercised.

Political Parties Decree

The committee had previously noted that under Section 14 of the 2013 Political Parties Decree, persons holding an office in any workers’ or employers’ organisation are banned from membership or office in any political party and from any political activity, including merely expressing support or opposition to a political party. The committee further observed that the Political Parties Decree was unduly restrictive in prohibiting membership in a political party or any expression of political support or opposition by officers of employers’ or workers’ organisations, and requested the Government, once again, to take measures to amend the above provisions, in consultation with the representative national workers’ and employers’ organisations. Observing that the Government does not provide any new information and noting the ITUC concerns about the restrictive effect of the Political Parties Decree on legitimate trade union activities, the committee reiterates its request in this respect.

Right to organise and collective bargaining convention

The committee requests the Government to continue to take concrete measures to facilitate negotiations and promote collective bargaining between workers and employers or their organisations in the public sector so as to create an enabling environment for collective agreements to be concluded in replacement of those abrogated by the Essential National Industries Decree of 2011. It also requests the Government to continue to provide information on the number of collective agreements concluded and in force, the sectors concerned and the number of workers covered by these agreements, as well as on any additional measures undertaken to promote the full development and utilization of collective bargaining under the convention.

Compulsory arbitration

The Committee notes the Government’s statement that the Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations conducts compulsory arbitration only where he or she considers that the dispute may be resolved by conciliation and that one such dispute has been resolved through compulsory conciliation in 2018. The Government informs that the Employment Relations Advisory Board (ERAB) will review the relevant laws and consider any appropriate amendments. The Committee recalls once again that compulsory arbitration is contrary to the voluntary nature of collective bargaining and is only acceptable in relation to public servants engaged in the administration of the State (Article 6 of the Convention) or in essential services in the strict sense of the term or in cases of acute national crisis. The Committee expects that the above provisions of the ERA will be reviewed within the ERAB, in accordance with the agreement in the Joint Implementation Report and in consultation with the representative national workers’ and employers’ organisations, with a view to their amendment so as to bring the legislation into full conformity with the Convention.

 

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