The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and its fellow global unions, along with the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) have united to condemn the latest undemocratic and anti-union tactic by Fiji’s illegal military government.
The global union federations and ITUC have denounced the Fiji Political Parties Decree (Decree 4 of 2013), issued on January 15, 2013.
They state that the decree, issued right after the military regime had discarded a new draft constitution, which was the product of a popular, consultative process, is the most recent affront to democratic principles and trade union rights. The purpose of this decree could not be clearer – to eliminate existing opposition political parties and to prevent new ones from being registered.
Most troubling, they note, is that Article 14 of the decree excludes all public officers from applying for, being a member of, or holding office in a political party. Article 14.2(d) defines ‘public officer’ to include any elected or appointed trade union officer. It is no coincidence that the decree was issued just days after the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) held a special delegates’ meeting to launch a new opposition political party that would include trade unions. Incredibly, under Article 14.1(c), a trade union official cannot even express support for a political party.
If a trade union leader does become an applicant for or member or officer of a party, they will be deemed as having resigned from their trade union office. Anyone defying this decree faces a $50,000 fine, five years imprisonment or both.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, explained: “The regime is once again attempting to silence the largest civil society organisation and opposition force in the country – the trade union movement. The international community needs to recognise that the promise of elections in 2014 will be meaningless if all Fijian citizenscannot fully participate in the political process. This decree should removeany doubt that the regime is seeking to have itself elected in 2014 by any and all means necessary.”
The decree alsoappears to seek to eliminate many existing parties. Parties will have less than one month from the issuance of the decree to demonstrate a minimum membership of 5,000 members (up from 128), which must come from all four divisions of the country, and to pay a $5,005 fee. The decree even regulates the length of the name and prohibits any party name in the indigenous language of the country. Those parties that do not comply within this timeframe will have all of their assets seized by the regime. If they continue to act as a political party despite failing to meet the new criteria, party officials will face a $50,000 fine, five years imprisonment or both.
“The decree clearly violates principles of freedom of association by prohibiting unions from engaging in political activities for the promotion of their trade union objectives. All individuals and groups that wish to form a political party should be able to do so, based on the principle of equal treatment before the law. This decree obviously fails this test,” stated Ambet Yuson, chair of the Council of Global Unions, which brings together the global union federations, ITUC and TUAC (Trade Union Advisory Committee).
Paddy Crumlin, ITF president and national secretary of the MUA (Maritime Union of Australia), commented: “What we’re seeing now is the regime making it very clear that it pretty much intends to do what it wants without any sanction by the people of Fiji. It is of great concern that the regime’s own proposed constitution will ratify repression of workers’ rights, repression that the military regime has regularly meted out against workers.
“The rejection of the constitution and new decree by the government means that the Fijian people will continue to suffer under the controlling and repressive military regime. The MUA and ITF will be calling on the Australian government and other governments around the globe to reassess their diplomatic relationship with the Bainimarama military regime,”
He concluded: “The MUA and ITF stands in solidarity with the Fijian workers and union leaders who are determined to take back democratic rights and freedoms.”
By International Transport Workers’ Federation