Friday, June 08, 2012

Fiji not Able to Appear at the Latest ILO Meeting in Geneva

Radio Australia News

The latest International Labor Organisation's meeting in the Swiss city of Geneva has been stopped from discussing reported violations against unionists in Fiji. .

The International Organisation of Employers prevented the discussion about Fiji and allegations of rights violations in 24 other countries.

The President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Ged Kearney is at the meeting.

And she spoke to Brian Abbott about the latest developments.

Presenter: Brian Abbott

Speaker: President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Ged Kearney

KEARNEY: This is a very good question and we are quite mystified by how or even why this has happened. Every year at the ILO, which of course is, it's an international body that sets labour standards for workers' rights right around the world, it's a tripartite body that these standards or conventions as they're called are written and enforced by governments, employers and workers who are represented by their unions here at the ILO. And every year we hear violations against workers or cases of countries who are not respecting the rights of workers. 
There are some very extreme cases like we know of in Fiji where a trade unionist has been imprisoned, they've been threatened physically, they have been denied the right to join a union in some industries, and to even collectively bargain. There's other countries like Colombia where trade unionists are actually shot, dozens every year are killed because they stand up for their rights as workers. So very important as an international standard that these countries actually have a place, these workers have a place to come and have these violations against them and against their country people heard and judged and have those governments held to account. Now this year the International Organisation of Employers have for some reason refused to allow any cases to come before the tribunal, come before the committee who hears these cases. They are objecting to the fact that the ILO, a respected international body of over 90 years, to have any supervisory powers and to actually hold governments, and I guess in some cases employers to account for these violations. We are mystified by this, we don't understand really why they are driving this. One can only think there's a gentleman called Chris Syder, who interestingly is not even an employer, he's a lawyer who is the spokesperson for the employers groups, and we can only think that they see worker's rights as a barrier to their businesses being profitable. And we think it is absolutely scandalous and outrageous that countries like Fiji, who see the ILO as a glimmer of hope for having their rights restored in their country, have been denied the right to even stand up and put their case.

ABBOTT: Was the Fiji Trade Union Congress Secretary Felix Anthony at the meeting in Geneva?

KEARNEY: Felix Anthony is in Geneva, he is here, he is here with his government representatives, because of course the point about putting a case is that the workers put their case and then the governments can actually stand up and put their case. So it's all balanced and it's all heard. And basically decisions are made and judgements are made. So Felix is here and he's very, very disappointed. He actually said to me, this was a real glimmer of hope for me Ged that I could stand up here at the ILO in Geneva and talk about what's happening to workers and worker's rights in Fiji, and now he can't do that.

ABBOTT: What allegations was he going to make against the Fiji government?

KEARNEY: Well I think your listeners would be quite aware of our concern, that's the ACTU's concern and the international community's concern about violation of rights, particularly worker's rights in Fiji. There have been decrees made by the regime, by Commodore Bainimarama that actually stop workers in certain industries from really even joining their union. We heard a case of for example the airline's union in Fiji, you can't collectively bargain in Fiji unless I think it's 75 or 79 workers in that workplace. So if you have less than 75 workers you can't collectively bargain, you can't ask your union to help you. Even when you do have 79 workers and you can collectively bargain, you're not allowed to have your union come and support you through that process. Felix Anthony is a trade union leader himself, he's been in prison, he's been physically beaten. We've heard stories of other trade unionists in the sugar industry, Felix was mentioning that here where if they want to join a union, if they speak up at work, they are physically harassed, they're sacked, their families are threatened. People are scared in Fiji to stand up for their rights as workers, and this is something that well the ILO certainly wouldn't stand for and the international community shouldn't tolerate.

ABBOTT: Now you say in your media release that Fijian workers not only deserve their story to be told to the ILO, but the world has an obligation to stand up for them and condemn the Fijian authorities for their actions. If you can't raise those concerns at the ILO, is there another international venue where they can be raised?

KEARNEY: No, they're really isn't, I mean this is the peak body for countries to actually be held accounted, governments to be held account for violations against workers. And as Felix said, this is a glimmer of hope for him, there's very little else we can do as an international community to support workers who are being shot, who are not being allowed to join unions, who are having everyday human rights violated in their country. The ILO is now I believe we're thinking very carefully about what the next steps are. There is a governing body of course here but again is tripartite, there's employers, there's workers, there's governments on the governing body, and they're going to be discussing what we can do about this and what the next steps are. There is redress to the International Court of Justice. There's a number of things that we can do and I think as an organisation the ILO is considering that.

ABBOTT: Now you've had firsthand experience with Fiji. I think you got as far as Nadi airport. Do you expect to be allowed back into Fiji at any time soon to carry out that mission? You set out some months ago now to find out just exactly what the conditions of Fiji unions were?
KEARNEY: I'd very much like to go to Fiji and find out what's happening there. We were very distressed and quite disappointed that the Attorney General didn't allow a trade union delegation into Fiji. It was actually at his invitation that we go and see what's happening on the ground there. And of course as everyone knows when we got there we were turned around and sent back. Unions are not looked on favourably at all in Fiji, and worker's rights are certainly not endorsed at all there. We do know that, we hope actually, well the ILO has actually been to Fiji, they made a preliminary trip there, they were allowed in, it's called a mission. And they wrote a very damning report about what they found on the ground in Fiji. We're hoping another high level mission from the ILO will go back to Fiji and hopefully put some pressure on the government there to restore worker's rights. I personally would love to go back to Fiji and I hope at some stage that I'll be allowed to do that. I have many good connections there, we work very closely with the trade union movement, Felix Anthony in particular, and I certainly would like to support them in any way I can.

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