What can we do about Fiji?
I’m taking the opportunity of the TUC delegation to Australia to discuss the next steps in the campaign for union rights in Fiji, meeting Minister for the Pacific Islands Richard Marles MP (a former Assistant Secretary at the ACTU) and Shannon O’Keeffe from the Asia-Pacific region of the International Transport Workers Federation, as well as social media specialist Andrew Casey, recently retired from the Australian Workers Union, and a long-term Fiji watcher.
Fiji languishes under a brutal military dictatorship, with meetings effectively banned, collective bargaining and union organisation illegal, and civil society leaders (especially trade unionists) regularly arrested, harassed and beaten. But the democracy the dictatorship replaced wasn’t worthy of the name, civil society is riven by divisions between the descendants of Indian contract workers and ethnic Fijians, and we’ve already got bodies like the Pacific Islands Forum, the Commonwealth (Fiji is suspended from both), the EU and the ILO to take action. What more can we do?
The consensus of opinion so far is that we need to do more to spread awareness about what’s going on in Fiji, through the media, websites and solidarity from trade unions in France, India, Indonesia and Japan (on top of the work global union bodies in sugar, hotels and transport, the ITUC and the Australian, British, New Zealand and US trade union movements are doing).
We need to concentrate our work on the meetings ban which – in a country where workplaces and workforces are almost all small, and people need to organise outside the workplace to make internal action worthwhile – is the death knell for trade unionism and other bodies like the Methodist Church; as well as on the restrictions on collective bargaining and representation which employers are taking advantage of. But to do this we need to make sure the voice of ordinary Fijians is heard, and the impact on jobs and wages is put centre stage.
So we’re designing a website to raise the profile of the abuses conducted by the Fijian military, and targeting the impact that the dictatorship has on ordinary working Fijians. The future of Fiji must be decided by Fijians themselves, but trade union global solidarity can lend them a hand in turning what they want into reality.