The law gives workers the right to form and join unions, elect their own representatives, publicize their views on labor matters, and determine their own policies. The law also gives workers the right to strike and bargain collectively.
All unions must register with the government, which has discretionary power to refuse to register any union with an “undesirable” name, as well as to cancel registration of existing unions in cases provided for by law. The ERP allows restrictions on the right of association if necessary in the public interest or to protect national security. Police, military, and prison personnel are prohibited from forming or joining a union.
Freedom of expression and association subsequently were restricted after the abrogation of the constitution. Under the PER unions reported considerable government interference with, and denial of, their right to organize.
The law provides for the limited right to strike, except that police, military, and prison personnel may not strike. Unions can conduct secret strike ballots, but must give the registrar 21 days’ notice. More than 50 percent of all paid-up union members--not only paid-up members who actually cast ballots in the election--must vote in favor of a strike in order for the strike to be legal. The Ministry of Labor also must be notified and receive a list of all striking employees and the starting date and location of the strike. This requirement is intended to give organizers, unions, employers, and the ministry time to resolve the dispute prior to a strike. To carry out a legal strike, organizers of strikes in certain “essential services”--including emergency, health, fire, sanitary, electrical, water, and meteorological services; telecommunications; air traffic control; and fuel supply and distribution--must give an employer 49 days’ notice. The ERP also permits the minister of labor to declare a strike unlawful and refer the dispute to the ERT; in these circumstances workers and strike leaders can face criminal charges if they persist in strike action after the referral. There were no strikes during the year.
Under the ERP any trade union with six or more members may enter into collective bargaining with an employer. Individual employees, including nonunionized workers as well as unions, can bring a dispute with employers before the permanent secretary for labor for mediation. Individuals, employers, and unions on behalf of their members may submit employment disputes and grievances alleging discrimination, unfair dismissal, sexual harassment, or certain other unfair labor practices to the Ministry of Labor. If mediation fails, the authorities may refer the dispute to the ERT. The ERT’s decision can be appealed to the Employment Court (a division of the High Court) and from there to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court. The ERP also gives unions the right to appeal to the ERT against an adverse decision by the trade union registrar.
The Essential National Industries Decree (ENID), published in July, severely restricts trade union and collective bargaining rights for workers in designated industries and corporations deemed essential to the national economy. On September 9, the government officially designated 11 corporations--in finance, telecommunications (including the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation), the public sector, and the airline industry--as covered by the decree. Once a corporation is designated, collective agreements previously negotiated between the corporation and unions remain valid only for 60 days. Before the end of this period, workers must renegotiate the agreements with their company. The government has the final say on such agreements. The decree excludes professional trade unionists from holding office in unions for these corporations and from representing the workers in negotiations with employers.
The authorities did not always respect fundamental labor rights in practice. Since the constitution was abrogated, unions have reported that the government used the mediation process to punish unions deemed insufficiently cooperative with government policies, interrupting the collective bargaining process, interfering with mediation, and denying appeals for unrelated political reasons. In addition, under provisions of the ENID, preexisting trade unions at the 11 corporations designated in September ceased to exist 60 days after the companies’ designation. Groups that had at least 75 members were able to set up new bargaining units to negotiate with management. Such units were not registered as trade unions under the ERP and did not enjoy the other rights and protections accorded trade unions under the ERP; registered trade unions may not undertake negotiations in companies covered by the ENID. For groups of at least 75 workers who formed bargaining units under the ENID and renegotiated agreements with their employers by year’s end, in most cases the companies and government entities appeared to have preserved the majority of benefits provided under previous collective bargaining agreements.
In September, after the ENID was issued, the government denied permits to the two trade union umbrella bodies, the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) and the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, to hold their council meetings.
While not promoted by the ERP, individual contracts were common. Employers tended to offer advantageous packages to new employees, particularly skilled labor, to promote individual contracts, which according to labor groups reduced the possibilities for collective bargaining and weakened unions. Under the former Compulsory Recognition Act, only unions with 30 percent workforce membership could negotiate with an employer. However, the ERP allows any six individual employees to form a union and start negotiating with an employer--another provision seen by existing unions as weakening worker unity and hence bargaining power.
In August two unionists were charged with breach of the PER for holding a meeting without a permit. The two individuals--Daniel Urai, president of the FTUC and general secretary of the hotel workers union, and union organizer Nitin Goundar--had met with two workers fired from an island resort. At year’s end the case had not come to trial. In November Urai was arrested again and charged with sedition; the government alleged he urged certain persons to overthrow the government. He was released on bail and was awaiting trial at year’s end.
Under the ERP it is an offense for an employer to victimize any worker or make it a condition of employment for a worker not to belong to a union, but union organizers were occasionally vulnerable to dismissal or other interference by employers, particularly when operating on company premises. Labor groups reported continuing difficulties organizing workers in the Tax Free Zones due to fear of employer reprisals.
Major trade unions reported instances of the government using the ERP in a biased fashion to shut down negotiations and appeals.
In 2010 the Fiji Sugar Corporation ceased the so-called check-off facility (direct deduction of union dues) for two registered unions: the national farmers’ union (Kisan Sangh) and the Fiji Cane Growers’ Association. As of year’s end this check-off facility had not been reinstated.
In May the government ceased the check-off facility for civil service unions. An August decree excluded civil servants from the ERP and its tribunals, courts, and mediation services. Under the decree the check-off facility is not a right but a service, which the government can choose not to provide. This greatly hampered the ability of civil service unions to represent their members. In June another decree gave civil servants the same rights to equality and nondiscrimination as other workers covered by the ERP.