AWU firm in support of Fiji unionists | Pacific Beat

AWU firm in support of Fiji unionists

AWU firm in support of Fiji unionists

Updated 25 February 2013, 19:46 AEDT

An Australian trade unionist says his members remain committed to helping their counterparts in Fiji.

Australian Workers Union South Australian branch secretary Wayne Hanson says Fiji unionists are spied on, assaulted and denied their rights.

He moved a motion in support of Fiji trade unions at the AWU conference last week, which was passed by acclamation.

We contacted Fiji's government for a response to this story, but they have not replied.

Mr Hanson told Bruce Hill the conference heard directly about the situation from a Fijian union leader.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Australian Workers Union South Australian branch secretary Wayne Hanson

HANSON: We had a person from the Fiji industrial movement, a guy by the name of John Mudaliar who attended our conference and addressed conference, and gave the conference a snapshot of the levels of harassment that are clearly evidence in Fiji.

HILL: What sort of harassment was he talking about?

HANSON: It goes to the extent that basic workers' rights, the right to organise, the right to be part of a union, the right to demand decent workplaces protected by collective agreements, and also he spoke about the levels of intimidation by thugs in military and police uniforms. He also discussed the trade unionists in Fiji unfortunately are bashed in their offices, they're bashed in car parks, they're even bashed at home in front of their families. That's just a snapshot of some of the levels of harassment that are occurring in Fiji.

HILL: The Fijian interim government, the coup-installed military government there says that these things have been exaggerated, that essentially what they're trying to do is to try and bring the trade union movement into a position where it can't influence what they call essential industries, and that all of these restrictions are in fact somewhat overblown and that people overseas should take what they're told by Fijians with a grain of salt?

HANSON: Surprising that they may say that because when we visit Fiji it is clearly evident up there that all is quite nice and friendly on the surface. But unfortunately we get to know that what really happens through reliable sources that come through to us from the industrial movement, when you have situations where the police for instance spy on the every move of the union officials, police listening into every telephone conversation, police tracking the emails, and those codes of behaviour that are currently in effect in Fiji are unacceptable to not only people in Fiji, but also people in Australia. I think that we should note also that as far as the openness or the attitudes that apply as far as the Fijian current regime is concerned, particularly with respect to trade unionists or trade union members, where now they say that if you are a member of a union or a union activist in Fiji, you can't be involved in Fijian politics. I mean that to me is disgraceful because in Australia democracy is underpinned by a sensible and moderate trade union movement that supports democracy in Australia.

HILL: Well you passed this motion, passing motions is all very well but what real practical effect is this going to have in Fiji?

HANSON: Well I suppose that's a matter for those people that are in power to determine. I mean there was a delegation that went to Fiji and unfortunately were denied entry. So that probably gives you an indication of the levels of support that the trade union movement gets in Fiji.

HILL: Well the accusation is made that this is just Australian unions grandstanding, that in fact a lot of the trade union leaders in Fiji are getting involved in politics; Felix Anthony from the Fiji Council of Trade Unions is forming his own Workers Party. He says he's prepared to go to jail by breaking the political parties decree by doing that. Aren't you in effect supporting a political movement in Fiji by taking this stance?

HANSON: No, I mean by no means, I mean what we want to see is the Fijian regime honour their commitment to return the Fijian system to a democracy by 2014. And we don't want a half-baked democracy, we want a full-blown democracy in Fiji, and let the people themselves decide what the circumstances are in Fiji.

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