David Burness and other class action pensioners in the case of Burness v the Fiji National Provident Fund , the Republic of Fiji and the Attorney General HBC 183 of 2011 whose pensions were cut by Decree in the name of FNPF’s ‘reform’ have expressed their shock at the announcement of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) that it will present two ‘certificates of merit’ to the Fiji National Provident Fund next week.
The ISSA is a not for profit (NGO) organisation based in Geneva. The ISSA’s Constitution states that its members are government departments, institutions, agencies and other entities administering social security. ISSA provides guidelines for social security coverage internationally.
Speaking for David Burness, lawyer Dr Shaista Shameem said that the ISSA gives the impression that it is part of the International Labour Organisation because its website gives its address as the ILO in Geneva. This is misleading because people think that the Association is part of the ILO.
In March this year ISSA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the ILO to reinforce their collaboration to extend and support social security world wide and to strengthen coordination of both organisations for social protection. What FNPF did in Fiji was the opposite of this, Dr Shameem said.
She said it was ironic that ISSA was rewarding FNPF for its human rights breach of pensioners’ right to social security and to their right to life. David Burness’ application to court asked for remedies for a human rights violation in the form of FNPF pension cuts which affected his right to life. This right is one of the fundamental rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which the International Labour Organisation is bound to up-hold, and not promote its loss, Dr Shameem said.
She said it was particularly hypocritical for ISSA to hand out this award to the FNPF when ISSA itself had insisted in the 1970s that FNPF change from a ‘savings’ to a pension’ scheme. This fact was in the documents before the court in the Burness case. The effect of this change on the FNPF was to be addressed in the court case but the FNPF pensioners were prevented by Decree from having their day in court.
Dr Shameem said that ISSA’s MOU with ILO commits the two organisations to closer programmatic and strategic cooperation. The ILO team were recently unceremoniously removed from Fiji by the Government. The ILO has also frequently objected to Fiji’s anti-labour rights record.
Mr Burness and other pensioners will be requesting the ILO to immediately take this matter up with its partner the ISSA, as a complaint.
Dr Shameem said that the pensioners felt that such undeserved awards given to the FNPF, which had acted unlawfully in breaching pensions contracts, puts the ILO on the spot. Even more so when an executive FNPF Decree went on to interfere with pensioners’ access to the courts. The right to justice is another international human rights principle of the International Labour Organisation, she said.