Fiji arrests trade union leader

Fijian trade union President Daniel Urai spent last week in Perth WA at the Commonwealth People's Forum, a civil society gathering ahead of this weekend's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). He was briefing civil society representatives, the media and politicians like Australian PM Julia Gillard about the dire human rights situation in Fiji. 

When he got back to Nida airport on Saturday, the Fijian Government made his case more eloquently even than Daniel could, by arresting him without charge!

He had been arrested earlier in the year for what the military dictatorship called an illegal meeting with his own union's members, but his trial was adjourned on 2 September because the Government failed to present any evidence. But they seem to be continuing to use this charge to harrass him, restricting his freedom of association and freedom of speech.

The Fijian Government, which was not at CHOGM because Fiji has been suspended from the Commonwealth, has targeted the trade union movement and the Methodist Church because they are the most active opponents of its dictatorial rule.

Most recently, the Government has introduced legislation which has stripped public servants of most of their employment rights, and made it almost impossible for unions to function in that sector. Now they have enacted an Essential Industries Decree which bans collective bargaining and strikes in any industries the Government wants to call 'essential'. So far that includes finance, telecommunications, energy and air transport. They have been condemned by the ILO, and expelled from the Pacific Islands Forum as well as the Commonwealth.

Trade unionists in Australia, Britain and New Zealand have condemned the latest arrest, and more will do so as the week begins. But we now need to exercise more than diplomatic pressure, and trade unions are considering public protests and smart sanctions to get the Government of Fiji to respect the human and trade union rights of its citizens.

Owen Tudor 

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