August 30, 2011

Tongan Unions chime in, in support of workers in Fiji

Tongan union criticises Bainimarama
Updated August 29, 2011 16:47:06
Radio Australia, Pacific Beat

Tonga's Public Service Association has joined trade unions in Australia and New Zealand in criticising Fiji's interim government.

They've sent an open letter to interim prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama condemning his government for what they call the harassment, ill treatment and arrest of trade union leaders and violation of workers' rights in Fiji.

Fiji Trades Union Congress President Daniel Urai and another union member are facing charges of unlawful assembly over a meeting they had with workers at a tourist resort without first asking for a permit under the country's Public Emergency Regulations.

Tonga PSA general secretary Mele Amanaki says that it's time Pacific island unions spoke out about events in Fiji and asked Commodore Bainimarama to return the country to democracy.

Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Mele Amanaki, Secretary General of Tonga's Public Service Association
Listen here.

AMANAKI: We've asked him to accept and comply with the international labour standards and to stop the physical abuses of trade union leaders and violations of their rights and we have also urged him to bring the treaty back to democracy.

HILL: The Fiji government says it's simply applying the laws that union officials have to get permits to hold meetings with workers and in the latest high profile case of one of the trade union leaders, they simply didn't apply for a permit. They're saying this isn't any sort of abuse of union rights, it's simply following the current law in Fiji?

AMANAKI: In my understanding, it's applying for a meeting for political background, political meetings. It's the same here in Tonga also. If every company who's supposed to be holding a meeting, if it's a board meeting or anything like that, it will obstruct the moving forward of the development of any company. I don't think it should include everyday meeting of the activities of a company or whether its trade union or churches or a group. If it's a political meeting, then yes they should apply for a permit. We've held regional meetings in Fiji, we've never had to apply for permits. Why now, why has he started to come down on the neck of the trade unions when they were just doing they're daily meetings.

Here in Tonga, we have been under emergency powers for nearly five years since the riot in 2006. We never had to request for permit for daily meetings of our operation of our trade unions here in Tonga.

HILL: There have been statements from the trade union peak bodies in Australia and New Zealand about the crackdown on trade unionists in Fiji, but that's been dismissed by the government. Do you think the Fiji government might pay more attention to you, as a Pacific Island trade union?

AMANAKI: I think it's about time for us our trade union in the Pacific Island, the smaller islands stand up and condemn these actions by the interim prime minister of Fiji. We are more closer to them and I would urge the people of Fiji to stand up, rise about their problems and put this leader whose putting them into misery out. We are surprised we still have this kind of leader in the Pacific, that he shouldn't be supported by the Pacific Islands.

HILL: In your open letter to him, you've actually contrast the situation in Fiji with the sort of things that you faced in Tonga recently?

AMANAKI: The riots that happened here in Tonga took place one week before the interim prime minister of Fiji overthrow the former government of Fiji using the gun. It took us only until 2010 to bring back Tonga to democracy and in this four years, I think that should have been enough time for him to bring back Fiji to democracy, may be a bit more one or five years because Fiji's is a little bit bigger than Tonga, but if he had really want to end the corruptions in Fiji of the former government that he has claimed were corrupted and then bring back Fiji to democracy as soon as possible, then his movement is genuine. Now he is holding longer onto power there is clearly something different about his agenda now. But it's clearly that we work together here in Tonga, the people stood up against our former government and we petitioned to the King also. It was hard, it was hard for us doing the negotiations with the former government and our King, but at the end we were able to make a peaceful, political transformation that we are really proud of and I'm hoping that the people of Fiji will stand up also and rise above their problems and try and stand up against this leadership they have in Fiji to bring their country to democracy.

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