I’ve already blogged about how Fiji’s military dictatorship was forced to appoint a Constitutional Review Commission, but then didn’t like its draft constitution, seizing and burning all the copies before deciding to write its own version. Partly in response, the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC), working with others, agreed to set up its own political party at the weekend. And the military have promptly changed the rules to ban trade union officials (and employers’ reps, too) from setting up, joining or standing for political parties (to prevent “undue influence”, apparently!)
In a move which is a prima facie breach of hundreds of Fijian people’s human rights, as well as the ILO fundamental conventions on freedom of association, Fiji’s military are stretching the bounds of patience in the international community. Commonwealth Secretary General Kamlesh Sharma (whose organisation has already suspended Fiji but had hopes a new constitution would put it on the path to democracy) had already sent a not-very-coded message after the book-burning incident. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also stressed the need for real – not cosmetic – change.
Now Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has joined the protests of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. (Actually, he jumped the gun, and got his press statement supporting the ACTU out first!) The TUC has been in touch with Foreign Secretary William Hague to ask him to do the same (he’s in Australia as I write, meeting Bob Carr on this precise issue.)
In Australia, of course, the right of trade unionists to enter politics is pretty firmly embedded: while Margaret Thatcher was attacking us as “the enemy within” as UK Prime Minister, Australia was being run by former ACTU Secretary Bob Hawke, and there are three former ACTU Presidents and Secretaries in the current Australian Cabinet (Martin Ferguson, Greg Combet, Simon Crean. Indeed, Bob Carr’s junior Minister resposnible for Pacific Islands affairs is former ACTU Assistant Secretary Richard Marles. If only Fiji was more like Australia…