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As the Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting concludes in Nadi, Fiji, PSI expresses our outrage and dismay that the Government of Fiji marked the event, which coincided with May Day, with the arrest and detention of trade unionists, including the General Secretary of our affiliate, the Fiji Nursing Association, Salanieta Matiavi, leaders of one of the teachers’ unions, an industrial officer for the NUW, and most recently the leader of the FTUC, Mr Felix Anthony along with 25 trade union members who were gathering on union owned land.
The arrests came as unionists were seeking to mark International Workers Day with a peaceful rally. The police have repeatedly denied unions a permit to hold rallies in Fiji. The denials contravene international law which renders police authorisation only necessary to facilitate, not deny, the right to assemble.
The Fijian Government has flaunted its contempt for the rights to freedom of association and assembly with the detention of the leader of the FTUC occurring at the conclusion of a tripartite meeting with the ILO and the Minster of Labour.
The ADB has resisted repeated calls to institute binding labour safeguards in its operations. If the ADB seeks to demonstrate any respect for workers and international labour rights it will call on the Government of Fiji to cease harassment and intimidation of workers and their unions and to respect labour rights. At the moment it appears that the actions of the Fiji Government were carried out to demonstrate to the ADB that protests against the projects of the ADB will not be allowed in Fiji.
Amongst the harassed unionists are water workers who are facing large scale job losses with the seemingly unilateral action of being locked out, having been laid off at the end of a temporary contract. The ADB, which is funding water and sanitation projects in Fiji, has for many years promoted corporatisation of Fiji’s water and sanitation supply. The latest loan from the ADB appears to have been allocated to work that has been tendered out to a Chinese company. It is likely that the Chinese company will bring in its own labour, despite the local Fijian workforce having been laid off.
PSI asserts that ADB loans connected to projects places an obligation on the board of the ADB to ensure human rights, such as trade union rights, are adhered to. We demand that their trade union rights be respected as per the ILO conventions to which Fiji is a signatory.
PSI calls on the ADB President and Board to make official inquiries into the actions taken against trade unionists at this time, to recognise the core labour conventions (C87, C98) that provide workers of the world the right to assemble, to collectively bargain, and to strike. We call on the ADB to commit to developing binding labour and human rights safeguards, and to conduct ex-ante as well as ex-post labour and human rights impacts assessments of all operations.
This recent abuse follows the suspension of air traffic controllers who took action after stalled negotiations for pay rises, these workers jobs are now being advertised internationally. These are clear indications that, post-election, the Fiji government is cracking down on trade unions.
PSI condemns the anti-union actions of the government and calls on them to respect the right of all citizens to assemble, organise, bargain, and act collectively to secure decent working conditions and to protect the public’s right to quality public services. We further call on the government to cease any legal action against the unionists, and that they cease harassment of unionist conducting legitimate union business.
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