Fiji sugar workers fight for their rights
The Fiji Sugar Workers' and General Union (FSWGU) has just held a secret ballot for strike action in the sugar mills, calling for a pay increase and other improvements in terms and conditions to deal with seven years when real pay levels have fallen by 40%. 67.5% of their members voted, and by a 9:1 majority they endorsed the union call for industrial action, despite a pre-emptive pay offer by their employer, the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC). Sounds like an every-day story of industrial relations, right? Wrong.
For this is Fiji, a military dictatorship, where the FSC is run by people appointed by the army. Fiji's sugar mill workers have lost their rights to organise and represent workers (and seen their representatives beaten up by company thugs and uniformed guards). The company refuses to recognise the right to collective bargaining, and made the inadequate pay offer without negotiations. During the strike ballot, Government Ministers threatened to send in troops to run the mills, the management threatened to supply the names of voters to the military regime, and the police and army watched workers as they voted.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has protested about these infringements of basic human rights, and has called on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to intervene. As the union considers its next steps, trade unionists from Australia to the United Kingdom are laying plans for solidarity action to respond to any move by the military.
Fiji's seven year old military dictatorship has not just abrogated democracy and freedom of speech. It has not just beaten and jailed its opponents. It has also driven ordinary Fijian workers into poverty and taken away their rights to freedom of association and to free collective bargaining, as required under ILO core conventions. Fijian sugar mill workers are not just fighting for better pay, but for their human rights.
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