The U.S. Trade Representative has announced the closure of a petition defending workers' rights in Fiji. This case represents gains for workers in our struggle for freedom and justice, but obstacles remain.
In December 2011, the AFL-CIO filed a petition with the USTR concerning serious labor rights violations in Fiji. Fiji’s then-military government had arrested and detained union leaders and unilaterally stripped workers of their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The country’s sugar industry workers were particularly hit hard, with the police and military intervening in their activities and threatening workers. Fijian workers sought help from the International Labor Organization as well.
The petition and ILO interest finally brought the government to the table. In 2016, the government rescinded much of its anti-worker agenda, including de-registration of unions and obstacles to dues collection. These are all positive steps, but steps from a very low floor. By 2011, the government had, in effect, banned virtually all union activity, and many restrictions remain. For example, the right to strike is still all but impossible to exercise in many sectors of the economy. The government retains sweeping powers to intervene in union activities and public meetings. Other laws prevent trade unions from effectively participating in political life.
USTR has promised it will continue to monitor the situation and urge the government to take further reforms. It is critical to sustain pressure for further progress, so that Fiji's workers can fully and freely exercise their rights.