September 21, 2012

Setback as Fiji orders International Labour Organisation to go

BY: ROWAN CALLICK, ASIA-PACIFIC EDITOR From: The Australian September 21, 2012 12:00AM

FIJI'S military government has ordered a delegation from the International Labour Organisation to leave the country.

This setback to Fiji's return from international isolation came just two months after Foreign Minister Bob Carr restored full diplomatic relations with Fiji, citing its progress towards a new constitution, under which elections would be held in two years.

The ILO sent a team under Abdul Koroma, from Sierra Leone, a former judge with the International Court of Justice, to discuss workers' rights and labour laws, which have been delivered by decree since the removal of the parliament nearly six years ago.

The acceptance of the high-ranking delegation was seen as a sign of progress on the part of the regime led by military commander Frank Bainimarama.

But the first meeting that the ILO delegation held, with Labour Minister Jone Usamate, was ordered to be abandoned.

The team - which was to have been in Fiji for a week - was then instructed to depart.

The Australian government issued a statement yesterday expressing regret, and calling on Suva "to work with the ILO to agree to terms of reference so that the organisation can return to do its job".

Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, also Minister for Justice, Anti-Corruption, Public Enterprises, Communications, Civil Aviation, Tourism, Industry and Trade, issued a statement denying the delegation had been "ejected, expelled, deported or forced to depart".

He said: "In order to make way for the next ILO visit under terms of reference provided to the ILO delegation in Monday, they were asked to leave at their earliest opportunity."

The terms under which another delegation might be accepted include "to genuinely assess the situation of workers and employers in Fiji, without simply heeding to what is being stated by a select few trade unionists".

The terms also include the requirement to meet the commissioner of police, the director of public prosecutions, "numerous other trade union officials recommended by the government and the employers", and employers in "essential industries" - who receive special protection from industrial action under a controversial decree.

Juan Somavia, the director-general of the ILO, which has retained an office in Suva for 37 years, serving 22 Pacific countries, said the move would fuel international solidarity with the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions and the Fijian Teachers Association, and place a greater spotlight on the critical situation of freedom of association in Fiji.

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