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  Government of the Republic of Fiji

  Ministry of Foreign Affairs

    A Better Fiji through Excellence in Foreign Service

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Media Release

Fijian Government attends GSP Case in USA

 

 

 

Fijian Government attends GSP Case in USA

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 to
Fiji and the Fijian workers were also emphasised at the hearing. Currently, 39
Fijian 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.)