August 23, 2013

A-G urges to think against sugar strike

August 22, 2013 | Filed under: Business | Posted by: newsroom

Would this cane farmer still be smiling if there is a strike by mill workers? Sugar cane farmer Etuate Tuitoga in his cane field in Nadi, when the cane crushing season began this year. Photo: RAMA
The Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has urged the Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union and mill workers to reconsider their decision to go on strike and think about our sugar industry.

His comments come amidst an advisory sent out to farmers by the union that they can go on strike any time now.

“We appeal to the good sense of those making these threats and also we appeal to the workers,” he said.

“Please think about the future, please think about the sugar industry, please think about the future of your jobs.”

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum stressed the importance of the sugar industry for Fiji.

“The reality is the sugar industry affects nearly 200,000 Fijians,” he said.

He said from the about 2000 sugar workers, there were about 700 who are unionised and out of the 700, a little over 400 had voted to have the strike.

In fact, he said, quite a substantial number stayed away from voting itself.

Union alleges intimidation
Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union general secretary, Felix Anthony, claims that workers at Lautoka Sugar Mill, who are members of the union, are being intimidated by management.

He claimed the “management also went around getting retired workers to sign a contract to work if the workers went on strike offering these retired workers five-year contracts.”

Fiji Sugar Corporation executive chairman, Abdul Khan, said he did not wish to comment on these claims.

Mr Anthony said the National Executive Committee of the union will consult this week and determine appropriate action.

“Management has also advised workers that FSC will get workers from India to operate the mills when the strike happens,” he said.

“Should this happen, the Union will call on international support and a campaign to make the international community aware of the shameful conduct of FSC management.

“The Union advises farmers that strike action by members of the union can take place at any time. This is a result of FSC’s continued refusal to enter into negotiations with the Union.”

Sugar permanent secretary Lieutenant-Colonel Manasa Vaniqi had earlier stated that crushing would not be affected if union members go on strike.

Government’s big investment
Meanwhile, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Government had invested a lot into the industry in recent times and this was not just in terms of money.

“We have invested in terms of providing assistance to farmers, negotiating with landowners to getting the leases renewed, providing infrastructure and various other support,” he said.

“As the IMF had noted in its recent visit that the reforms needs to continue to be able to realise the full potential of Fiji.

“So we will have to ensure that the sugar industry is a viable industry.”

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum stressed FSC needs to continue.

“The cane farmers need to continue to earn a living and the reality is the truck drivers are also involved,” he said.

“There are people involved in the ancillary services and many of the towns are built around the sugar industry.”

He said it would be a pity if a handful of people wanted to destabilise that process.

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