The idyllic South Pacific island of Fiji is run by a military dictatorship which represses trade unions, harasses their leaders, criminalises collective bargaining and is ruining the economy to boot. It is suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum.
Now they’ve compounded their pariah status internationally by expelling an ILO mission led by world-renowned Sierra Leonean Judge Koroma, a member of the International Court of Justice. It all suggests the military’s ‘commitment’ to restore democracy in 2014 is a total sham.
The ILO contact mission – agreed by the Government in advance – arrived in the Fijian capital Suva over the weekend. Their plan was to spend a week investigating abuses of ILO core labour standards like freedom of association and free collective bargaining. Fiji’s abuses of fundamental human rights also include freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, with the regime’s critics (even in the Methodist Church) banned from meeting, beaten and arrested on trumped-up charges of rebellion.
Half way through the ILO mission’s first, Monday morning meeting with the Minister of Labour, he received a telephone call directing him to adjourn the meeting for further consultations with Government officials. It is believed that the call came from the eminence grise of Fiji’s dictatorship, Australian-educated “interim” Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, possibly the most unpopular man in Fiji and the one with most to lose if democracy returns. (He has recently been accused by a senior Hong Kong lawyer of turning Fiji’s judiciary into a transmission belt for Government.)
Later that evening, we understand that the ILO Mission was told by the Prime Minister’s Office that the regime believed they had arrived with “pre-conceived ideas” and that the terms of reference for the Mission were unacceptable to the regime. The “pre-conceived ideas” line has been used in the past to justify the expulsion of international trade union delegations, and the terms of reference were to investigate the abuses already condemned by the ILO’s supervisory mechanisms. It’s like demanding that police officers investigating a murder operate on the basis that no crime has been committed!
The Prime Minister’s office then instructed the ILO Mission to leave the country without holding any more meetings.
This approach is entirely in keeping with the regime’s past behaviour, but entirely contrary to their professed commitment to restore democracy and freedom to Fiji. It demonstrates that the regime has no respect for international law or workers’ and trade union rights.