SUVA — An International Labour Organization delegation has been ordered out of Fiji while investigating claims that workers' rights were being ignored in the Pacific island nation, the UN agency said Thursday.
The expulsion drew immediate condemnation from Australia which called on Fiji to reverse the decision.
The ILO had been invited by the Fiji government to study complaints by local trade unionists but had not been allowed to speak to union members before being told to leave.
The delegation was meeting Labour Minister Jone Usamate on Wednesday when the minister received a telephone call and said the meeting was over and the UN representatives had to leave the country.
The ILO said the mission, led by former International Court of Justice judge Abdul Koroma, was terminated when Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama changed the terms of reference.
"The (Fiji) prime minister presented the mission with entirely new terms of reference, which the ILO found unacceptable. As a result, the ILO mission was asked to leave Fiji immediately," the ILO said in a statement.
Fiji government officials have not been available for comment but released a statement on Thursday saying the government had a policy of "openness and transparency" to scrutiny by organisations such as the ILO.
"We welcome such visits as long as they are conducted by an independent delegation with no predetermined outcomes and focused agenda," it said.
Fiji Trades Union Congress general secretary Felix Anthony, who was at the aborted meeting, told AFP the government's action would only worsen Fiji's reputation.
"How do you trust a government like this? They invite the delegation and then tell them to leave the country," Anthony said.
"The expulsion by the Fijian government further puts (Fiji's) bad credibility and reputation on the international stage."
Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup, invited the ILO delegation to inspect Fiji's labour conditions after the Trades Union Congress complained that workers' rights were not being upheld.
Australia, which led international sanctions on Fiji following the coup, sent its acting High Commissioner in Suva Glenn Miles to meet Fiji government officials about the ILO mission and to express concerns about labour and human rights in the country.
"The ILO's mission to Fiji was seen by the international community as a step toward improving and upholding workers' rights," the Australian foreign ministry said.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said the expulsion confirmed "serious concerns with the Bainimarama regime's ongoing disregard for human rights.
"This also shows how afraid of scrutiny this autocratic, non-elected regime is, in pretending to welcome the ILO but then slamming the door in its face upon arrival."
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