Issue date
26 Feb 2013
Solidarity with Fiji's workers & unions

Quartet letter

February 2013

The leaders of the Australian, British, New Zealand and US trade union movements have written to the foreign ministers of their governments about democracy in Fiji. Frances O'Grady has joined ACTU President Ged Kearney, NZCTU Secretary Peter Conway and AFLCIO President Rich Trumka in calling for action.

The four countries, who operate as a 'quartet' on Fiji, were moving at the end of last year to reward the dictatorship that runs Fiji for moves towards democracy. Union leaders urged caution at that stage, and developments since (see letter) have borne out their scepticism.

So unions are urging Foreign Ministers to freeze their support for the military regime until restrictions on political parties, trade unions and collective bargaining are lifted.

The letter is as follows:

Honorable Ministers and Secretaries,

Developments in Fiji

Over the past year we have collectively written outlining our concerns for the human and trade union rights situation in Fiji under the military regime of Commodore Bainimarama.

I believe we can all agree that the worst case scenario is developing in Fiji:

  • The regime has discarded the draft constitution prepared by the Independent Constitution Review Commission;
  • The regime has announced it is drafting its own revised constitution that will uphold the role of the military in Fiji - which it has yet to produce despite an announced end of January deadline;
  • The Constituent Assembly will be hand-picked by Commodore Bainimarama;
  • Multi-party elections (if an election is to occur) will be severely undermined by executive decrees, such as the recent political parties decree, that place severe restrictions on political parties - including barring union officers and employer representatives from being an applicant for the establishment of a political party, being an officer in a political party or even publicly expressing a political view;
  • The government is proceeding to deregister 14 of the 17 political parties, which did not meet the requirements under the decree, and to seize the assets of those parties; and
  • Most recently, the government issued amendments to the political parties decree that sharply curtail the media's ability to report on political commentary by key stakeholders (subject to imprisonment), strengthen the provisions denying trade unionists the right to participate in political activity and provide the Elections Office with inappropriately broad discretionary powers.

The situation for workers and trade unions continues to deteriorate. The ejection of the ILO High Level Mission in late 2012 was a missed opportunity for greater transparency and the development of recommendations to address labour violations. The mission will be unable to return before the March 2013 Governing Body, as the ILO had requested, thus purposely delaying further discussion. It is unclear at this point whether the ILO will be able to return anytime soon.

Given the developments over the past three months, we recommend that you re-evaluate your relations with Fiji and at the very least not further normalise those relations. Doing so would send the wrong signal and provide legitimacy to behaviour that is far removed from the principles and practices of democracy.

While we welcome the statements some of you have issued about the attacks on freedoms and rights listed above, we believe you could, individually or collectively, now make a firm, public condemnation of the direction of the regime.

We continue to believe that your four governments have substantial political and economic relations with the government of Fiji that provide you with leverage to affect this situation. We strongly urge you to explore all options, public and private, to encourage the regime to:

1. Repeal the Political Parties Decree (No 4 of 2013) and its amendment (No 11 of 2013) or bring it into line with international standards;

2. Repeal the Essential National Industries Decree and Decree 21 of 2011, the latter of which introduced eviscerating amendments to the Employment Relations Promulgation, stripping fundamental rights from workers in the public sector;

3. Provide immediate and unqualified access to the ILO High Level Contact Mission and UN Special Representative on Freedom of Association; and

4. Incorporate principles of representation and transparency in the constitutional review process and election preparations.

We appreciate your on-going attention to this important matter. Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information, or with any questions or concerns.