Fiji Announces Commitment To Worker’s Rights At UN

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Minister says U.S. sanctions could jeopardize 15,000 jobs

By Reginald Chandar

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Oct. 1, 2012) – Fiji's Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola yesterday pledged to the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday to uphold the rights of the nation's workers.

Speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama in the face of union action in the United States next week that could jeopardize the jobs of 15,000 Fijians, Ratu Inoke launched a strong defense of the Government's labor reforms in a wide-ranging speech.

He said the only restrictions on unions in Fiji were those that were generally accepted to protect the public good and the rights of those workers who chose not to affiliate with unions.

"The Bainimarama Government’s commitment to a future of equality and opportunity for all Fijians includes ensuring that the rights of working people are protected and extended.

We seek to ensure that unions can take collective action as directed by their member workers," he said in his speech.

[PIR editor’s note: Fiji Trades Union Congress leader Felix Anthony, however, claims the interim government has "systematically repressed trade union and workers' rights" through a number of official decrees over the last three years.]

Ratu Inoke said the Government envisaged that the new Constitution would also ensure workers' rights.

"We expect the new constitution to help us to continue to build an environment that promotes safe working conditions, protects workers from arbitrary actions and allows workers to form unions."

"As part of Fiji's return to democracy, the Government was reviewing the country's labor laws to ensure that they complied with 34 conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that Fiji had ratified."

"The tripartite Employment Relations Advisory Board was a key participant in this process. In this year alone, Fiji has ratified or adopted eight ILO instruments, as recommended by the tripartite board, including the Maritime Labour Convention 2006," he said.

He stressed the government's overall approach to labor relations was to empower ordinary workers.

"The Bainimarama Government is committed to protecting workers who are fortunate enough to have jobs and to ensuring that all workers receive fair wages. We are equally committed to creating employment opportunities for the young and less affluent."

A Fijian Government delegation is heading for Washington next week to defend an attempt by the Fiji Trades Union Congress to stop Fiji from benefiting from the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Scheme, which, since 1976, has given certain Fijian exporters duty free access to the United States.

The 39 Fijian companies at risk of losing their preferential access to the U.S. market are warning that 15,000 workers could lose their jobs if the action succeeds.

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