Fiji

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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 union membership. The law prohibits employers from using violence, intimidation, or stalking or hindering the work of an employee who has exercised any legal right under the labor code.

The law limits who may be an officer of a trade union, prohibiting noncitizens, for example, from serving as officers. 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.

All unions must register with the government, which has discretionary power to refuse to register any union with a name that is “offensive or racially or ethnically discriminatory.” By law the government may cancel registration of existing unions in exceptional cases.

By law any trade union with seven or more members in an industry not designated as essential may enter into collective bargaining with an employer. The law requires that parties negotiate in good faith and outlines the basic requirements of collective bargaining.

Unions may conduct secret strike ballots after giving 21 days’ notice to the Registrar of Trade Unions, and the strike may begin after the registrar supervises a secret ballot in which 50 percent of all members entitled to vote approve the strike. Workers in essential services may strike but must also notify the Arbitration Court and provide the category of workers who propose to strike, the starting date, and location of the strike. The law designates “essential service and industries” to include corporations engaged in finance, telecommunications, public sector employees, mining, transport, and the airline industry. The definition of essential services and industries also includes all state-owned enterprises, statutory authorities, and local government authorities.

The law permits the minister of employment to declare a strike unlawful and refer the dispute to the Arbitration Court. If authorities refer the matter to the court, workers and strike leaders could face criminal charges if they persist in strike action.

The government did not enforce these rights. Penalties under law for violations of freedom of association and of collective bargaining agreements include fines and imprisonment. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights. 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 (hereafter the employment ministry).

Relations between the government and the two trade union umbrella bodies, the Fiji Trades Union Congress and the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, remained strained. In May 2019, police arrested several workers of the Water Authority of Fiji for breaching the POA when they protested the firing of many employees. Trades Union Congress general secretary Felix Anthony, the secretaries of the Fijian Teachers Association and the nurses’ union, and an officer of the National Union of Workers were also arrested. Anthony was held for 48 hours under the POA for organizing “unlawful gatherings”; in June 2019, police again arrested Anthony, charging him with breach of the POA for false statements about the expiration of water authority employment contracts and other infractions. Anthony was later released on bail, but charges remained pending, and his case has not yet been heard by the courts.

In previous years trade unions reported additional antiunion action, including unilateral voiding of collective bargaining agreements with civil servants, lockouts and threats of retaliation to prevent unions from voting on industrial action, dismissal of union members, and a pattern of systematic harassment and intimidation. There were no reports of such problems during the year, due in part to COVID-19 restrictions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The Office of Labor Inspectorate, police, and Department of Immigration are responsible for enforcing the law, depending on the circumstances of the case. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law prescribes penalties that were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping.

There were reports forced labor occurred, including by children (see section 7.c.). Forced labor of adults and children occurred in the field of domestic work. Southeast Asians were subject to forced labor in manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. Education is compulsory until age 15; the law specifies that children ages 13 to 15 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 on child labor but does not include a list of permissible activities. Children ages 15 to 17 may work, but 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 government effectively enforced child labor law, and penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The employment ministry deployed inspectors countrywide to enforce compliance with child labor laws. The law provides for imprisonment, fines, or both, for companies that violate these provisions. The employment ministry maintains a database on child labor.

Poverty caused children to migrate to urban areas for work, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation in work as casual laborers, often with no safeguards against abuse or injury. Child labor continued in the informal sector and in hazardous work, for example, as wheelbarrow boys and casual laborers. Children engaged in hazardous work in agriculture and fishing. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). Some children worked in relatives’ homes and 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 https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, color, place of origin, gender, sexual orientation, birth, primary language, economic status, age, disability, HIV/AIDS status, social class, marital status (including living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage), employment status, family status, opinion, religion, or belief.

The law also stipulates that every employer pay male and female workers equal pay for work of equal value. The law prohibits women working underground but places no other legal limitations on the employment of women. Workers may file legal complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The government did not provide data on the enforcement of antidiscrimination provisions. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and imprisonment and were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and wages occurred against women and persons with disabilities. Women generally received less pay than men for similar work. The nongovernmental Fiji Disabled People’s Association reported most persons with disabilities were unemployed due in significant part to discrimination by employers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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. The regulations stipulate all employers must display a written national minimum wage notice in their workplace to inform employees of their rights.

The employment ministry’s Office of Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but the inspectorate lacked capacity to enforce the law effectively. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court adjudicate cases of violations of minimum wage orders. The law provides for 48 hours for a six-day workweek or 45 hours for a five-day workweek. This does not apply to managerial or executive workers. There is no legal limit for overtime hours. Convictions for a breach of the minimum wage law result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. Penalties are commensurate with those for similar crimes such as fraud.

The government establishes appropriate workplace safety laws and regulations and places responsibility for identifying unsafe situations with experts, not workers. The Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate monitored workplaces and equipment and investigated complaints from workers. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced visits but cannot enter without consent and must inform the employer of his or her presence. When inspectors believe informing the employer of their presence would prejudice the inspection, they may forgo this requirement. Obstruction of an inspection can lead to a fine. Inspectors can suspend businesses deemed to pose an immediate health or safety threat or risk. Penalties are commensurate with those for similar crimes like negligence. Government enforcement of safety standards suffered from a lack of trained personnel. Delays in compensation hearings and rulings were common.

Although the law excludes mines from general workplace health and safety laws, the director of mines is responsible for inspecting all mines to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court decide 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.

There were no statistics available on the frequency or type of workplace accidents. The Ministry of Employment, however, reported in mid-February that it had 1,426 workplace injury and 247 workplace death cases pending compensation adjudication. Media reported on workplace death cases. For example, in August, Rajnesh Narayn died in an accident reported at the lumber mill where he had worked for 20 years. In another case, a worker died when crushed while moving equipment in a storage yard. The employer undertook to assist local investigators.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select a Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future