Last year, major updates were made to the Employee Relations Act in Fiji which increased the benefits received by employees through the implementation of Family Care Leave and an increase in Parental Leave and Maternity Leave. On the other hand, employers have also begun to take a hardened stand against employment unions in the country.
The last legislative review regarding unions took place in 2016 with the Fijian government signing a tripartite agreement with unions in order to address present issues surrounding the reform of their labor law. Now, 4 years later, these unions are stating that the government is not playing fair and not following through in good faith on their agreement. Additionally, there are claims being made that the Employee Relations Act, and the Political Parties Decree have actually limited the rights that trade union employees and trade union leaders have in the nation.
These claims go as far as to stating that the Fijian government has been lying to the International Labour Organization (ILO) regarding the terms of the agreements that were signed. For example, in the previous agreement, it was determined that permits would need to be granted to initiate union use of peaceful marches of protest – however, the government is now refusing to grant these permits and are not providing any reason as to why the requests have been denied. Moreover, the government has already suspended five trade unions for inappropriate conduct due to the fact that they have not submitted their annual audited reports in protest against the worsening conditions of trade union workers in Fiji. These unions also face the risk of being penalized or unregistered as a trade union if they continue to refuse to comply with the present legislation.
Leaders of the affected trade unions are leery of what the future of trade unions looks like in this country now. The weakening of trade unions has also created problems regarding low wages and puts the country at risk of losing confidence in their economy. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has stated that the leaders of these trade unions have failed to attend the formal tripartite board meetings of past years and that they are once again invited to discuss the terms of the legislation. However, until the trade union leaders feel that the government is ready to fulfil their obligations and create a binding agreement in good faith, this situation in Fiji is likely to get worse before it gets better.