October 04, 2012

Fiji must respect labour laws: union

From: AAP October 02, 2012 4:31 PM

THE Fijian government will have no one to blame but itself if the US terminates an export arrangement which supports thousands of jobs on the Pacific island, a union says.

Fiji currently benefits from the General System of Preferences (GSP) agreement, which allows developing third world countries to export their goods to the US duty free.

However that arrangement - which supports up to 15,000 Fijian jobs - is under threat because, in order to qualify for the GSP, countries must conform to international labour standards.

A GSP hearing will be held in the US on Tuesday night (AEST)to examine the country's working conditions, which Fiji's Trade Union Congress (FTUC) claims have sunk to an all-time low since Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama seized power in a military coup in 2006.

It claims public sector workers are now denied the right to collective bargaining or to trade union representation, while around 60 per cent of the population live on, or below, the poverty line.

FTUC national secretary Felix Anthony says the Fiji government must improve working conditions if it wants to avoid the GSP arrangement being scrapped.

"This can be avoided if the government complies with international labour standards," Mr Anthony told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

"They (the government) have reports that tell them how to do things in the right way so it's not rocket science for them."

In the run up to the GSP hearing, the Fijian government has claimed it respects workers' rights and has accused the country's trade union movement of acting "un-Fijian" by highlighting problems in the workplace.

Mr Anthony said the regime has nothing to worry about if international workplace laws have been followed.

"If you believe you are doing the right thing... you will be able to convince the hearing you are doing the right thing," Mr Anthony said.

"But if you're not you have reason to be concerned, and in that case you need to do the right thing."

Workers rights such as Freedom of Association and the right to collectively bargain must be immediately restored, Mr Anthony said.

"The onus is on the regime to fix the problem they've created for themselves."

Mr Anthony who is returning to Fiji after a meeting of the International Labour Organisation, is in Australia to brief the ACTU.

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