Almost two years after receiving a complaint lodged jointly by the ITUC and the BWI regarding three state-owned Fijian forestry companies, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) have decided not to disassociate the firms, turning a blind eye to their anti-union behaviour. A joint letter from BWI and ITUCA joint letter from BWI and ITUC takes issue with many aspects of FSC's decision not to disassociate the Fijian forestry firms.
The claim was triggered in December 2013 just as workers at one of the companies were about to take strike action. Then the Government (ENI) of Fiji passed an amendment extending the coverage of the Essential National Industries decree to include the forestry industry. The decree replaced the existing trade unions in the sector with “non-union bargaining units”, and made strike action almost impossible to undertake legally. The joint complaint alleged the ENI amendment violated the workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The BWI-ITUC letter notes that from the outset there were serious procedural failures in addressing the case, firstly by the certifying bodies (SCS and ASI) and then by FSC themselves, failing to allow the petitioners to respond to evidence put forward by the employer.
Worse still were the substantive concerns around the case, with the Panel concluding that there was no intimidation or bad faith bargaining, despite direct statements from the Attorney-General (who drafted the amendment) stating the that the purpose of the law was to eliminate the union. The Panel’s conclusion, that the company’s hands were tied by the amendment, beggars’ belief, given the Government deliberately tied the hands of the state-owned company.
FSC have provided the union with no remedy and have made no demands of the forestry companies concerned to change their behaviour or bargain in good faith. In a country like Fiji that has just emerged from another period of military rule into democracy and has a poor history of civil rights, FSC must be especially vigilant of rights violations. To fail to censure those violations as they arise simply rewards the anti-union Fijian Government.