The abandonment of a pledge by the Bainimarama government to allow an independent constitution to be drawn up is a major setback for workers’ rights in Fiji.

Unions call on the Australian Government to demand an explanation by the Fiji military regime for its decision to ignore the independent Constitution Commission, which confirms concerns that the regime’s only interest is protecting its own power in the lead up to the 2014 elections.

The Constitution Commission, headed by Professor Yash Ghai, a respected and experienced academic, undertook extensive consultation and prepared a report outlining its recommendations for a new Fiji constitution.

This included a Bill of Rights, which would enshrine basic worker rights such as freedom of association, collective bargaining, freedom from discrimination, equal pay and a just minimum wage. The report also included a recommendation on transitional arrangements that would require Commodore Bainimarama to step aside in the lead up to elections.

A draft constitution was also prepared by the Commission. Reports suggest that when the Commission attempted to publicly circulate copies of the draft constitution, the regime burnt the documents.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the latest decision by Commodore Bainimarama is one in a long line that demonstrate the charade of Bainimarama’s stated commitment to return Fiji to democracy.

“There will be no democracy in Fiji without a transition that is open, inclusive and participatory,” Ms Kearney said. “Commodore Bainimarama’s actions demonstrate that he has no interest in democracy. He needs to be held accountable for this position.

“We acknowledge the work of Professor Ghai. A number of the recommendations of the Constitution Commission were very positive including an obligation to respect human and trade unions rights. For Fijian workers the proposed Bill of Rights would protect freedom of association, freedom of assembly, the right to bargain collectively, freedom from discrimination, equal pay and a just minimum wage.  

“It is now of serious concern how the regime’s own proposed constitution will impact on workers given the military regime’s systematic violation of workers’ rights over the past few years.

“In addition, the non-negotiables established by the regime for the transition need to be challenged. There is no hope for peace and stability in Fiji, if immunity is granted to coup perpetrators and human rights violators.

“We reiterate our serious concern that the decision by the Australian Government to begin normalising relations with Fiji is premature and only provides legitimacy to a regime that has repeatedly failed to respect the rights and promote the interests of the Fijian people.”