International union movement slams Fiji leaders redrafting of draft constitution | Pacific Beat

International union movement slams Fiji leaders redrafting of draft constitution

International union movement slams Fiji leaders redrafting of draft constitution

Updated 14 January 2013, 11:23 AEST

The International Trade Union Confederation has raised its concerns about the constitutional process in Fiji.

Last week the interim government announced it was not happy with the draft constitution written by the Commission headed by Professor Yash Ghai, the man it gave the job to. Instead it will be writing its own draft.

That announcement came after it moved to try and ensure that no hard copies of the draft could be distributed, and following a standoff with Professor Ghai, who had raised allegations interim Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama and other members of his regime had interfered with his work.

The decision to scrap parts of the Ghai draft has been criticised by many in Fiji and around the region, and the ITUC is also worried about the impact on workers there and their representatives. As well, the Confederation is assisting Fiji's union movement and civil society groups in forming a new political movement, which will include a party which will contest the 2014 election.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker: Sharan Burrow, General Secretary International Trade Union Confederation

BURROW: I was there over the weekend. We had a mass meeting of union members and hundreds-of-people turned out to tell a story of oppression, of economic destruction in terms of the livelihoods of working people, their very job and, of course, the anger was palpable about a dictator whose basically taken over a country with no legitimacy and now despite selling the international community a story about an open and transparent return to democracy with the Ghai Commission Draft Constitution being part of now a process of debate of amendment and indeed of endorsement by the people it's been torn up. This is a constitutional farce and it demonstrates that Bainamarama is not willing to hand over power. He himself says he'll now write the Constitution and it will be done by March, and it will be debated by a handpicked invitation list. It's time that the international community again raised its voice and said enough, we've had enough and we've been duped by a man who is not interested in a peaceful and independent transition to democracy.

COONEY: Of course, as I mentioned there, hard copies of the draft were confiscated, the gallery proofs were burnt, but it's widely been distributed on the internet, so it's been seen, it's been read. Does the union movement have faith in the draft that was put together by Professor Ghai?

BURROW: Well look, it's up to the Fijian people to debate their Constitution, but certainly, I know that the Fijian Union and key members of civil society I met with thought that the Bill of Rights, that the independent parliamentary arrangements as a transition to the elections and indeed the Fiji Assembly, which was a citizens group inclusive, broadly based, that would, if you like, keep watch over the Constitution, would look at meeting from time-to-time and review the constitutional arrangements every five years. They thought this was a very, very good start, to breaking the cycle of coups, to restoring democratic rights and freedoms in Fiji. And as I've said, they're very, very angry, and not going to take this lightly. The decision on Saturday in fact was the Trade Union Movement backed by civil society leaders are planning to build a new political movement, eventually to be headed by a new political party, but certainly a process of broad consultation with the community, looking to take back their country and it's democratic rights and freedoms that they demand.

COONEY: Certainly, we've seen in the past that the Interim Government has made it clear they want to a new political future now, exactly what that means I'm not to sure, but it seems to be absolutely sidelining some of the old political players. You're new political grouping and the party over there. Is there a bit of concern that maybe the rules or the goal posts will change between now and when an election will be held over who can be a member and exactly how that party is formed?

BURROW: Oh look, I think this week will tell us some of that. The Commodore's indicated that he will release the arrangements for the registration of political parties this week, so we fully expect. The unions fully expect and so does civil society that there will be constraints which will be unacceptable. The issue for governments internationally is that here's a dictator who promised two things. One, he promised that he'd respect ILO core labour standards. Clearly that's not the case now with restrictions on the very right of assembly for union members. They had to get permission to meet on the weekend, let alone have the rights that we agree are fundamental, the right to organise, to bargain collectively, like strike and so on. But secondly, there is in fact grave concern that those rights will be further constrained on the basis of the second promise which was that the government would adhere to international standards around the registration of political parties. Nobody believes that he'll keep that promise either.

COONEY: We've heard comments from New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, raising his concerns about what happened last week. There has been a fair bit of silence coming from Australia. Are you unhappy with the response you've heard from the Australian Government?

BURROW: I've no doubt about the position of the Australian Government. It's certainly time that there was more pressure from Australia. Australia and New Zealand are the two major economic partners, along with the United States, from this region and then the US more broadly. Those countries can make a big difference. Australia's always been a friend of Fiji and this government's taken a very tough stand and we're appreciative of that. But it would be very helpful at this time to have all governments, including those in the G77, and I certainly intend to make our condemnation known. The G77 have allowed this dictator to actually head up their consultative structure. Now, you can't have the duplicity of a dictator pretending to be democratically committed now in terms of transition to democracy, simply thumb your nose at the constitutional process he himself set up and remain somebody whose going to be taken seriously in reporting to the United Nations about democratic rights and freedom. So we intend to protest this question very strongly.

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