November 08, 2011

Radio Australia: NZ unions want tougher sanctions on Fiji

Updated November 7, 2011 17:26:22

New Zealand's trade unions are backing a call from their Australian counterparts for trade sanctions to be imposed on Fiji in the wake of a prominent trade unionist being charged with sedition.

Fiji Trades Union Congress President Daniel Urai has been remanded in custody after appearing in a Suva court on charges of sedition.

The case has been adjourned until next week.

The charges have been laid under a section of the Crimes Act in relation to urging political violence and inciting communal antagonism against the government.

FTUC secretary, Felix Anthony, was arrested on Friday but he yet to be charged.

Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Peter Conway, secretary of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions
Listen here.

CONWAY: Well this is really outrageous and it's really a further example of the sort of pressure that the government is putting union leaders and others in Fijian society that speak out.

HILL: Why is outrageous?

CONWAY: Well, I'm sure it's not true. All that Daniel and Felix have been doing is standing up for fundamental human and trade union rights that are respected in many parts of the world certainly in Australia and New Zealand and recognised by the International Labour Organisation which governments and employers sign up to as well as unions.

HILL: Presumably the Fiji authorities wouldn't be bringing charges of sedition, a very serious crime, unless they had some pretty strong evidence to back it up and on the face of it, if you're suggesting that people were causing political violence or communal tension might that not be seen by the government as a very, very serious thing?

CONWAY: Well, my understanding is that they've tried these charges in the past and on occasions judges have simply thrown it out. Now, there's not even really an independent judiciary here. This is a military dictatorship trying to silence any opposition, it's that simple.

HILL: Do you think that they'll get a fair trial?

CONWAY: I don't think they will, but I think that's one of the points of pressure that has to be put on by governments and other organisations to insist that they're released, but at the very least there needs to be a fair trial, but we think they simply should be released and the charges dropped.

HILL: Well, what kind of pressure do you think that can be brought to bare on the Fiji government, from overseas.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has gone on record as suggesting that perhaps an escalation by the Australian government towards trade sanctions might be appropriate now under these circumstances. Do you back that up?

CONWAY: I do. Clearly what we're doing at the moment is not enough to have any impact and we wouldn't call for trade sanctions without being aware of that being supported by workers and unionists in Fiji and that will be a difficult question, because it's hard for them to be able to express an opinion at all. But certainly the information we've been given is that the unionists there want to see activity stepped up.

HILL: What kind of activity stepped up, trade sanctions, bans on unloading and loading ships on the wharves going to and from Fiji, that kind of thing?

CONWAY: Yeah, that includes trade sanctions, looking at the tourism sector, sugar, all of those, that needs to be looked at and the United Nations peacekeeping facility that they use from the Fiji soldiers, that has to be stopped as well. But we've been fairly careful in New Zealand and what we're really calling on our government to do at this stage is to actually call together a meeting of all the industry leaders who are involved in trade with Fiji, we get us from the union movement along there and other interested parties and go through all the options. The risks involved, but there cannot be a situation where you say oh, this is a great pity, but there's nothing we can do.

HILL: If you go ahead with things like say trade sanctions and bans on loading and unloading ships, won't that end up hurting the very people in Fiji that you want to help, the workers, might they lose their jobs as a result of a downturn in the economy?

CONWAY: Yeah, that's the usual argument put up against people when they start to stand up for themselves, speak out and call for international support, so that is a risk that has to be assessed, but we take our information from the Fiji Trade Union Movement who have been saying to us look, it's time to look at those sort of actions, because the protests they've been making aren't having any great affects. In fact, the government has stepped up the attacks on the union movement of workers there by way of decrees and now locking up the union leadership.

HILL: Do you think that Daniel Urai and Felix Anthony are going to be the only ones arrested?

CONWAY: Well, I don't want to speculate on that. There are others who have been arrested in the past. We'll have to wait and see. We're advised at the moment that they're not in any harm, that the police have not harmed them in anyway, which is a change from what happened when Felix was assaulted by the military in February, but we're assured that there's been no such attacks at this stage.

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