More than a quarter of countries represented at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth this week have failed to allow basic industrial rights for workers, the ACTU said today.
ACTU President Ged Kearney said a survey by the Commonwealth Trade Union Group showed workers’ rights were being ignored across the Commonwealth, with the worst abuses currently occurring in Fiji and Swaziland.
The CTUG, representing over 30 million workers in 30 countries, is calling on the CHOGM to suspend Swaziland for wholesale violations of democratic rights and to ask the United Nations to stop using Fijian soldiers as peace keepers around the world, as well as condemn the already suspended Fijian military dictatorship’s Essential Industries Decree.
“Workers’ rights are human rights. Without them, people cannot defend their economic and political freedoms. They are as central to democratic societies as they are to free trade unionism,” Ms Kearney said.
“The Commonwealth prides itself as a organisation that supports democracy and human rights, but this survey shows many countries are falling short, with 14 countries having failed to ratify at least one of the eight core ILO conventions.”
“In the Pacific region, Fiji’s unelected dictatorship is imposing draconian restrictions on workers’ rights and trying to remove unions from workplaces. It is becoming increasingly unsafe for workers in Fiji to stand up for their rights, and we need more international pressure to stop further erosion of constitutional rights in Fiji.”
Ms Kearney said that other Commonwealth countries had also failed to protect workers’ rights.
“India has not ratified the child labour conventions or the conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining” Ms Kearney said.
“Shockingly Australia, New Zealand and Canada have not ratified one of the two conventions on child labour.”
“In Malaysia the Government is seeking to take away workers’ rights to unionise by classing more workers as self-employed or contractors. In other countries, such as Malawi and Zimbabwe, union officials are subject to persecution and violence by government.”
Simone McGurk, Secretary of the West Australian peak trade union organisation, UnionsWA, says CHOGM leaders need to listen to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group if the Commonwealth is to survive.
“It’s timely that CHOGM’s own advisors are saying that they need to address human rights if the Commonwealth is going to retain its relevancy,” said Ms McGurk.
“Trade union rights are central to a vibrant and active society. We call on the Commonwealth to ensure that workers are properly represented in all member countries,” she said.
Ms Kearney and Ms McGurk will be at a press conference in the Commonwealth Media Centre at the Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre, at 10am this morning (Wednesday) by trade union leaders battling the worst repression in the Commonwealth.
Trade Unionists from Australia, India, New Zealand, Fiji, Swaziland, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the UK are also attending the Commonwealth People’s Forum and available for interview.
Heather Paterson (UnionsWA) 0417 923 029
Stephen Dawson (ACTU) 0419 045 200
Owen Tudor (TUC) +44 77 88 715 261