October 02, 2012
Unions say turn up the heat on Fiji
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: John Stewart
As the Australian Government moves to ease sanctions against Fiji's military regime to encourage democratic elections, unions are calling for tougher measures.
EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: As the Australian Government moves to ease sanctions against Fiji's military regime to encourage democratic elections, unions are calling for tougher measures.
The ACTU is supporting a campaign by American unions to turn up the heat on Fiji's military strongman, Frank Bainimarama.
Tomorrow in Washington, the US government will conduct public hearings into whether Fijian exports will continue to benefit from duty-free access to American markets.
But as John Stewart reports, the push for trade barriers against Fiji is not winning the support of Australia's Foreign Minister.
JOHN STEWART, REPORTER: 39 Fijian companies enjoy duty-free access to the United States. But American unions are lobbying the US government to place tariffs on Fijian imports to punish the countries military ruler and prime minister, Frank Bainimarama.
It's a move supported by Fijian unions, who claim the government has introduced new laws banning organised labour and local union leaders.
FELIX ANTHONY, FIJI TRADE UNION CONGRESS SECRETARY: What it does is basically removes collective bargaining altogether, and also nullifies all collective agreements that have been in place over decades.
JOHN STEWART: Fijian trade union leader Felix Anthony arrived in Sydney today, seeking support from the Australian Government for the American unions' action against Fiji.
FELIX ANTHONY: I firmly believe that the country is far worse off than it was six years ago. The people in the country are worse off than they were six years ago and the longer the regime stays, the worse we believe it's going to get.
JOHN STEWART: The ACTU supports getting tough on Fiji and says that recent moves by the Australian Government to lift some sanctions against the military regime are a step in the wrong direction.
GED KEARNEY, PRESIDENT, ACTU: The whole international labour community is very, very concerned about labour rights in Fiji, but not only that, but human rights more broadly. We've got churches, community groups, women's groups all decrying the regime's violation of human rights in that country.
JOHN STEWART: Fiji's prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, released a statement saying the introduction of tariffs on Fiji's imports to America could directly cost 15,000 jobs.
FRANK BAINIMARAMA, FIJI PRIME MINISTER (male voiceover): “There could also be indirect job losses. Fiji is a family-based society. The loss of these jobs would affect 75,000 people, which is more than 8 per cent of our population."
JOHN STEWART: A spokesman for the Foreign Minister Bob Carr told Lateline:
SPOKESMAN (male voiceover): "The Australian Government rarely imposes sector-wide tariffs as sanctions against countries because they can hurt ordinary people's lives."
JOHN STEWART: The Fijian government says it's working on a new constitution and will introduce Fiji's first national minimum wage, but local unions remain unconvinced.
FELIX ANTHONY: What we fail to understand is why cannot this regime respect workers' rights today? Why does it have to wait for a new constitution to do that?
JOHN STEWART: The final shape of the constitution and workers rights remains unclear.
BRIJ LAL, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Well I think that everyone hopes that the draft constitution that is produced by the end of this year, by December, will be inclusive and transparent and that the broad spirit of the document will be recognised and respected by the regime. But there is also a sense of disquiet in many people that that might not happen.
JOHN STEWART: The Australian Government is urging Fiji to conduct democratic elections in 2014 and introduce more civilians into the government.
John Stewart, Lateline.