Second trade union leader arrested in Fiji
After the arrest last weekend of Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) President Daniel Urai on his return from CHOGM in Western Australia, this weekend saw the arrest of FTUC General Secretary Felix Anthony – who last month addressed the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Council. Twelve police officers are reported to have arrested him at the FTUC offices in Suva on Friday afternoon. Like Daniel, he has not been charged, although there are suggestions both are being held under the Public Emergency Regulation 2009 which permit detention without trial for ten days, and which has been condemned by Amnesty International.
Protests against Felix’s arrest have been made by trade unionists and politicians in the region. In Australia, ACTU President Ged Kearney and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd have spoken out against this arbitrary and dictatorial act, and in New Zealand, NZCTU Secretary Peter Conway and Labour Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maryan Street. They have all called for the immediate release of both men.
The arrests come as collective bargaining and union representation become illegal in sectors covered by the Essential Industries Decree, such as air travel, energy, finance and telecommunications. From Monday 7 November, companies in those sectors – despite in many cases wanting to continue to work with unions – will have to negotiate agreements with their staff without union involvement, or break the law. Attar Singh, General Secretary of the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions (FICTU – the second trade union confederation in Fiji), suggested that the arrests were linked to the combined union campaign against the new Decree.
Condemning Felix Anthony’s arrest, Ged Kearney said:
“The fact that not just one but two union leaders have been arrested and detained in Fiji within a week is an alarming and aggressive tactic by the Fijian Government. Worker and trade union rights are a vital aspect of a democratic society. Arresting union leaders for doing their job is unacceptable and alarming behaviour by a regime that has persecuted the union for some time. Independent trade unions in Fiji are representing workers in an increasingly dangerous environment, and with 40% of Fijians living below the poverty line, their human and workers’ rights must be protected. A society in which democratic protest and protection of workers’ rights is met with government retaliation and intimidation is one that Australian unions condemn as a blatant disregard of both human and workers’ rights.”