I am pleased to forward for your information and attention, a letter dated 26 January addressed to Fiji Prime Minister Bainimarama.
The letter is jointly signed by the General Secretary of the International trade Union Confederation, the General Secretary of the International Union of Foodworkers, and the Chief Executive Officer of Fair Trade International. It notes the importance of the sugar sector to Fiji’s economy and respectfully brings to Prime Minister Bainimarama’s attention the signatories’ deep and continuing concern over serious restrictions on freedom of association and collective bargaining previously decreed by the government which remain in force, notwithstanding criticism of those restrictions by the International Labour Organisation.
The letter urges the Fiji government to commence a fresh start and revise the laws and decrees which violate Fiji’s obligations under ratified ILO Conventions, to initiate good faith collective negotiations in the sugar sector, resolve current disputes and reform the Election Code.
The ACTU shares the concerns expressed in this correspondence and endorses the call for the matters to be addressed by the Fijian government. With respect I ask you on behalf of the Australian government to support resolution of these matters in your dealings with Prime Minister Bainimarama and the Fijian government.
Cc Margaret Twomey (Aust High Commissioner to Fiji)
Prime Minister of Fiji,
26 January 2015
Hon. Prime Minister,
We are writing on behalf of Fairtrade International, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF).
As you set your government’s agenda for 2015, we are certain that ensuring the long-term viability of the sugar industry, which accounts for 40% of merchandise exports, 12% of GDP and which employs 25% of the workforce, is high on the government’s list of priorities. At the same time, we recognise the challenge posed to all ACP countries including Fiji from the removal of production quotas on European beet sugar, which now put the livelihoods of cane farmers and mill workers, and the survival of sugar cane industries at risk.
As you know, Fairtrade has supported cane growers in Fiji to organize themselves into smallholder organisations and to achieve Fairtrade certification, so that their product can be sold as Fairtrade refined sugar in export markets. For the past three years, sugar buyers have paid several millions of dollars to the Fijian cane farmers as Fairtrade Premium, which farmers invest in their businesses and their communities. This has had a positive social and economic impact on the lives of Fiji farmers and their rural communities.
At the same time, we remain deeply concerned by the serious restrictions on freedom of association and collective bargaining previously decreed by the government, which have been criticized by the International Labour Organization. Further, owning and controlling the Fiji Sugar Corporation, the government has and continues to refuse to recognize the union representing sugar mill workers and has failed to respect their existing collective agreement. This situation has persisted since 2011.
When workers sought to exercise their right to strike over wages, police and military were deployed, and workers reported that they were harassed and intimidated until they were forced to abandon their action. These actions by the government have put at risk the success of sugar cane farmers who today benefit from Fairtrade. An ILO mission to Fiji in October 2014 confirmed serious violations of the right to freedom of association, which are having a direct and serious impact on Fijian workers, and urged your government to act.
In order to commence a fresh start, we respectfully call upon the new Government to address this situation urgently. In particular we would urge that the Government:
1. Consistent with Fiji’s obligations under ratified ILO conventions, and in line with ILO
observations, revise laws and decrees so that workers are able to exercise their right to
freedom of association, to organise and to bargain collectively;
2. Initiate good faith collective negotiations with the trade unions representing sugar mill
workers with the aim of reaching a new collective agreement as soon as possible;
3. Resolve the more than 30 disputes in the sugar sector concerning breaches of the collective
agreement and unfair disciplinary actions that remain unresolved (some for over 5 years)
before the Employment Relations Tribunal;
4. Reform the new Election Code so that union elections and registration remain with the
Registrar of Trade Unions rather than the Election Commission, whose decisions are
We remain at your disposal to support resolution of the aforementioned issues, which we believe to be critical for the future of the Fiji sugar industry. We know that the coming years will be challenging ones for the long term sustainability of the Fijian sugar cane industry, and we are convinced that securing the rights of workers in the mills, alongside existing benefits received through Fairtrade for the sugar farmers, is now both urgent and vital. We are available to meeting with your government to discuss these steps together.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC
Ron Oswald, General Secretary, IUF
Harriet Lamb, Chief Executive Officer, Fairtrade International