Unions weakened and NGOs attacked as Fiji joins UN Human Rights Council

On 13th October 2018, Fiji was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year term from 2019 to 2021. Human rights groups evaluating each candidate said Fiji was among the countries whose candidacies were "questionable," with a problematic human rights record including abuse by Fijian security forces, the stifling of freedom of expression, a compromised judiciary and problems of impunity and corruption.

Prior to the UN election, Felix Anthony from the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC), criticised Fiji’s prime minister for paying lip-service to respecting human rights, when the reality on the ground is in complete contrast to the picture he has painted to the international community. He said in September 2018, that workers’ human rights have continuously been trampled upon by the government since coming into power through a coup in December 2006. Further, he said, "people have been incarcerated and persecuted for even attempting to stand up and speak, many have been beaten up including trade unionists and the media has been muzzled".

Elections are due to be held in Fiji on 14th November 2018.

Association

Labour rights activists accuse government of being ‘anti- union’

On 4th September 2018, the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) publicly stated that industrial relations in Fiji have never been worse, with the government leading the charge to weaken and dismantle the trade union movement in the country.

According to Felix Anthony, National Secretary of the FTUC, the situation is unprecedented. He said:

“Never have we witnessed or experienced such an anti-union Government. Ignoring workers’ collective bargaining power, the government has instead imposed individual contracts on civil servants, teachers, nurses and workers in government owned entities and banks. This is in direct violation of labour laws and international Conventions which Fiji has ratified. Workers know they do not have security of employment under these contracts which can be revoked by Government or their Employer with one months’ notice.”

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, the government has decided to have individual, fixed-term contracts for civil servants rather than a collective bargaining agreement.

According to the FTUC, assurances by the Attorney General that these contracts will be renewed has not allayed the concerns of workers. The FTUC is convinced that these contracts are simply to weaken unions by excluding them from collective bargaining when it comes to terms and conditions of employment of workers, exactly what the Essential Industries Decree was supposed to do. The FTUC said is is determined to “ensure that workers in Fiji continue to be able to exercise their rights which are enshrined in the ILO Core Conventions, UN Declaration on Human Rights, the Fiji Constitution and the Employment Relations Act”.

These concerns were also echoed by the Fiji Public Service Association (FPSA). On 22nd September 2018, FPSA General Secretary, Rajeshwar Singh stated that public sector unions were “still being targeted” to weaken the collective voice of their members. He said that the public sector unions were “suppressed” on a daily basis and was concerned about attacks on trade unionists under the guise of civil service reforms. Singh also highlighted that the FPSA delegates’ conference had passed a resolution to oppose the reforms in all its forms.

Government hits out at NGOs

On 12th August 2018, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, reportedly lambasted NGOs claiming that many “have lost their own mandate and have become politically aligned” and showed a tendency to highlight issues regarding the government. He called it the “political proclivity" of many NGO's in Fiji, accusing them of not being independent and claimed that “some people are always hiding behind the façade of being an NGO”.

Civil society groups have spoken up on a range of human rights issues in the country, despite facing restrictive legislation that has stifled the media and curtailed the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, In February 2018, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, on his visit to Fiji, that civil society groups have been facing a "narrow civic space and the suppression of dissenting voices".

Peaceful assembly

Police deny union rally

In late September 2018, the Fiji police denied authorisation for the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC) to hold a peaceful march and rally on 29th September 2018. FTUC National Secretary Felix Anthony said that they were not given any valid reason on why the government rejected their application for a permit and added that “perhaps, the government was scared of their own people”. FTUC will be reporting the denial of workers’ rights to hold a peaceful march and rally, to the International Labour Organisation.

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, the authorities has also refused to grant the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC) permission to hold a peaceful protest march on 7th April and on 24th February 2018.

Expression

Fiji Times editor wins regional media award despite challenges

On 16th September 2018, Fiji Times Editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, was awarded the prestigious Asia-Pacific News Media Executive Award at the 2018 PANPA Awards in Sydney, Australia. Fiji Times outgoing General Manager and Publisher Hank Arts, said that the award “reflected the high standards of journalism at the Fiji Times and an international recognition of the trademark of an excellent newspaper”.

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, Fred Wesley, Hank Arts, Anare Ravula (editor of Nai Lalakai), and Josaia Waqabaca (Nai Lalakai opinion writer) were prosecuted for sedition, which human rights groups believe were politically motivated but were acquitted in May 2018.

In July 2018, Hank Arts, said that his job has been made difficult by the government's draconian approach to the media. He said:

"It's made difficult because of the challenges that we had with a government not appreciating the value and the work of an independent newspaper…so that has seen two nasty court cases that have been expensive both in legal costs and also very much in human costs."

Hank Arts said the government's Media Decree hangs over the industry, threatening large fines and jail terms, and he doesn't see the environment changing.

Legal action taken against politician for Facebook criticism

On 18th October 2018, Fiji Labour Party parliamentary leader and lawyer Aman Ravindra-Singh was served a summons and has been given 14 days to respond to a legal action taken against him by Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum for a Facebook post he made criticising the government.

The summons, filed at the High Court Registry in Suva, claims that Ravindra-Singh on 3rd February 2018, posted an article on his Facebook page titled “Regime Dirty Politics” that “used offending words” and “was designed to impugn the character and reputation” of Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum. They are seeking an order that Ravindra-Singh writes a public apology, for it to be published in a daily newspaper and that he must be restrained from publishing or printing similar articles on social media. They are also seeking damages for libel and slander.