Fiji Minister Allegedly Removed From Labor Negotiations

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Opposition MP says move by government destroys all the progress

By Felix Chaudhary

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 6, 2016) – The National Federation Party says a Commission of Inquiry by the International Labour Organization into labour relations in Fiji was inevitable if reports of the removal of Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Semi Koroilavesau from heading negotiations with the trade union movement are true.

Party leader Professor Biman Prasad said the recent progress made between the Fiji Trades Union Congress and Government by Mr Koroilavesau after months of tension had been destroyed by the decision to remove the minister from the talks process.

"This smacks of political interference and this is illustrated by the appointment of Solicitor General Sharvada Sharma to lead negotiations with the unions in his capacity as chairman of the Employment Relations Advisory Board (ERAB)," the NFP leader said.

"We also would like to point out that Mr Sharma's appointment as ERAB chairman has been unlawful as the Employment Relations Promulgation stipulates that the chairperson should be the Permanent Secretary for Labour."

Prof Prasad added the onus was on Government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the ILO did not appoint a Commission of Inquiry into Fiji.

"So far, Government is adamant that its suppression of trade unions and erosion of workers' rights are necessary for a modern economy.

"This is clearly unacceptable to the ILO.

"The only way out for Government is to introduce relevant Bills in Parliament during the next sitting from February 8-12 to amend the Political Parties Decree that currently bans trade unionists and union employees from participating or supporting any political activity or becoming members of a political party and amendment to the Employment Relations Promulgation including the Amendment Act to ensure the provisions confirm to ILO Conventions 87 and 98, which are Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining respectively."

The ILO tripartite mission is scheduled to arrive in the country on January 25.

The ILO mission has been tasked with investigating the inability of Government, FTUC and Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation to construct and submit joint progress and implementation reports to the ILO Governing Body on labour law reform issues as outlined in an agreement signed by all three parties at a meeting in Geneva in March last year.

Attempts to obtain comments from Mr Koroilavesau over the past few days have been unsuccessful.

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