Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides all workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike.
The law prohibits some forms of antiunion discrimination, including victimizing workers or firing a worker for belonging to a union. The constitution prohibits union officers from becoming members of parliament. The law also limits the ability of union officers to form or join political parties and exercise other political rights.
The law designates “essential service and industries” to include 11 corporations in eight sectors: finance, telecommunications, public-sector employees, and the airline industry. In 2015 the law was amended, extending the definition of essential services and industries to include all state-owned enterprises, statutory authorities, and local government authorities.
The law also limits who is able to be an officer of a trade union, including prohibiting noncitizens from being trade union officers.
All unions must register with the government, which has discretionary power to refuse to register any union with an “undesirable” name, although the law limits the government’s discretion to refuse to register trade union names to those cases where the name is “offensive, or racially or ethnically discriminatory.” The government may cancel registration of existing unions in exceptional cases provided for by law.
By law any trade union with seven or more members that is not in an industry designated as essential may enter into collective bargaining with an employer.
Unions may conduct secret strike ballots upon 14 days’ notice to the registrar if 50 percent of all members who are entitled to vote approve the strike. Workers in essential services may strike but must also give 14 days’ notice, notify the Arbitration Court, and provide the category of workers who propose to strike and the starting date and location of the strike. The law permits the minister of employment to declare a strike unlawful and refer the dispute to the Arbitration Court. If authorities refer the issue to the court, workers and strike leaders could face criminal charges if they persist in strike action.
Limited data were available on the government’s enforcement of legal provisions on freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties under law for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining included fines and imprisonment; observers considered them sufficient to deter violations. 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 Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations.
The two trade union umbrella bodies, the Fiji Trades Union Congress and the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, held meetings during the year without government interference.
The constitution and the law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor.
The Labor Inspectorate, police, and Department of Immigration are responsible for enforcing the law, depending on the circumstances of the particular case. The government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes imprisonment penalties, which observers generally considered sufficient to deter violations.
There were reports that forced labor occurred, including forced labor of children (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Although the law provides that education is compulsory until 15 years, children between 13 and 15 years may be employed on a daily wage basis in nonindustrial “light” work not involving machinery, provided they return to their parents or guardian every night. The law sets a limit of eight hours per day that a child can work, but does not include a list of activities that are permissible. Children between 15 and 17 years may be employed, but they must have specified hours and rest breaks. They may not be employed in hazardous occupations and activities, including those involving heavy machinery, hazardous materials, mining, or heavy physical labor, the care of children, or work within security services.
The Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations deployed inspectors nationwide to enforce compliance with labor laws, including those covering child labor. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. The law provides for imprisonment, fines, or both, for companies who violate these provisions.
Poverty continued to lead children to migrate to urban areas for work, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, and to work as casual laborers, often with no safeguards against abuse or injury. Child labor continued in the informal sector and in hazardous work, including work as wheelbarrow boys and casual laborers, including in cane farming and other agriculture. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6). Some children working in the homes of relatives were vulnerable to involuntary domestic servitude or forced to engage in sexual activity in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, or school fees.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings .
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on ethnic origin, color, place of origin, gender, sexual orientation, birth, primary language, economic status, age, disability, HIV/AIDS status, social class, marital status, employment status, family status, opinion, religion, or belief. In 2016 the law expanded the scope of legal prohibitions against employment discrimination to bar discrimination based on race, social origin, gender identity or expression, health status, conscience, or pregnancy. The law stipulates every employer shall pay male and female workers equal remuneration for work of equal value. The law prohibits women working underground in mines but places no other legal limitations on the employment of women. Under the employment relations law, workers may file complaints on the ground of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Limited data were available on the government’s antidiscrimination provisions and its enforcement. Penalties for employment discrimination included fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations.
Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women and persons with disabilities. Women generally received less pay than men for similar work. According to the Asian Development Bank, approximately 30 percent of the economically active female population engaged in the formal economy, and a large number of these women worked in semisubsistence farming or were self-employed. Women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership by law of indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land, but authorities seldom recognized this right (see section 6). The NGO Fiji Disabled People’s Association reported most persons with disabilities were unemployed due to lack of access, insufficient education and training, and discrimination by employers.
On August 31 under the 2017 Employment Relations (National Minimum Wage) Regulations, the government raised the national minimum hourly wage from F$2.32 ($1.13) to F$2.68 ($1.26). The new wage rate became effective on September 30. The regulations stipulate all employers must display a written national minimum wage notice in their workplace to inform employees of their rights. There was no official poverty-level income figure, but the minimum wage did not typically provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.
There is no single national limitation on maximum working hours for adults, but there are restrictions and overtime provisions in certain sectors. The government establishes workplace safety laws and regulations.
The Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations’ Office of Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but the inspectorate lacked sufficient capacity to enforce the law fully. Convictions for a breach of the minimum wage law result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. The Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate monitored workplaces and equipment and investigated complaints from workers. Government enforcement of safety standards suffered from a lack of trained personnel and delays in compensation hearings and rulings. Although mines are excluded from general workplace health and safety laws, the law empowers the director of mines to inspect all mines to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court adjudicate cases of employers charged by the inspectorate with violating minimum wage orders and decide on workmen’s compensation claims filed by the inspectorate on behalf of workers.
Unions generally monitored safety standards in organized workplaces, but many work areas did not meet standards, and the ministry did not monitor all workplaces for compliance. Workers in some industries, notably security, transportation, and shipping, worked excessive hours. According to a May 29 article in the Fiji Sun, four workers died in work-related incidents during the year.