Government of the Republic of Fiji
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
A Better Fiji through Excellence in Foreign Service
Tuesday 2nd October 2012: The Fijian Government today attended the hearing of a petition before the Generalized System of Preferences Sub-committee (“GSPSC”) at the United States Trade Representative Office in Washington DC. The petition was filed by the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (“AFL-CIO”) seeking to remove Fiji from the list of eligible beneficiaries of the Generalized System of Preferences.
The Fijian Government was represented by His Excellency Ambassador Winston Thompson, the Acting Solicitor-General Sharvada Sharma, Principal Legal Officer, Salaseini Serulagilagi, and First Secretary, Ray Baleikasavu.
Addressing the GSPSC, the Acting Solicitor-General updated the members of GSPSC about the constitutional processes which have been implemented by the Fijian Government. This involves an inclusive nation-wide dialogue process by an independent Constitutional Commission that will result in the promulgation of a new Constitution in early 2013; and lead to Fiji’s first non-race-based democratic elections by September 2014. The non-negotiable principles which will be incorporated in the Constitution are: a common and equal citizenry; a secular State; removal of systemic corruption; an independent judiciary; elimination of discrimination; good and transparent governance; social justice; one person, one vote, one value; elimination of ethnic voting; proportional representation; and a voting age of 18 years.
The GSPSC was also informed that with the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) in January 2012, Fiji is now operating under the amended Public Order Act. This amendment provides internationally accepted, modern laws to combat terrorism, racial and religious vilification, and other serious public order offences. With the implementation of the constitutional consultation process, all persons and organizations, including trade unions are now able to hold public meetings without the need for a permit or other form of advance notice. In addition, all forms of media censorship have been wholly removed.
GSPSC was also updated on numerous other recent worker-related reforms in Fiji, including the implementation of substantial income tax reduction for workers, a National Employment Centre, a soon-to-be-established National Minimum Wage for Fijian workers, and a no-fault compensation scheme for injury at work.
In terms of the Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree 2011 (“Decree”), GSPSC was informed that the intention of the Decree is to ensure the viability of specific industries that are vital to the Fijian economy and GDP. The Decree is designed to protect jobs, while safeguarding the fundamental rights of workers. It does not destroy the trade union movement in Fiji, as has been alleged.
It was also stressed to the GSPSC that under this Decree, workers continue to have fundamental rights, including the right to organize; form unions; independently vote for representatives; bargain collectively; and develop processes to resolve employment disputes and grievances. The Decree obligates each employer to recognize and bargain with union representatives. It was also highlighted that the Decree is not unique as its key provisions are comparable to that of the U.S. National Labor Relations Act and laws in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
GSPSC was also informed about the successful implementation of the Decree in essential industries where workers have freely organised, formed bargaining units, and elected representatives. Furthermore, they have successfully reached collective agreements with employers and have devised their own dispute resolution processes.
The Fijian Government’s concerns with respect to the impact of the loss of GSP toFiji and the Fijian workers were also emphasised at the hearing. Currently, 39Fijian companies export Fiji’s products into the US market under the GSP system. In 2011 alone, this generated $57 million in export revenues. If GSP were lost, worker layoffs of about 15,000 workers would be the only option for affected companies and would adversely affect 75,000 Fijians (over eight percent of our population).
Government affirmed its commitment to a future of equality and opportunity for all Fijians. This includes ensuring that the rights of its working people are protected and extended. The Fijian Government made this promise not only to the United States but also as the newly chosen Chair of the G-77 for 2013.
In addition, GSPSC was informed that, in order to address the lack of bilateral relations between the Fijian Government and the US Government, a bilateral informal dialogue process could be established with appropriate U.S. trade and labour officials to assist all parties in obtaining true facts about the rights of workers in Fiji. The Hearing concluded with answers being provided to questions raised by the GSPSC to correct inaccurate and incomplete information. Following detailed discussions, GSPSC has now invited both the Government and AFL-CIO to present post-hearing written submissions within 3 weeks.
(Caption: L – R: His Excellency Ambassador Winston Thompson, the Acting Solicitor-General Sharvada Sharma, Principal Legal Officer Salaseini Serulagilagi and First Secretary Ray Baleikasavu.)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs P. O. Box 2220 Government Buildings Suva, Fiji