Speech to the resolution on Fiji by AWU South Australian Branch Secretary Wayne Hanson.
Delegates I’m honoured to move this motion.
Fiji is one of the top five priority nations for the international union movement, led by our very own Sharan Burrows, formerly at the ACTU, now leading the International Trade Union Confederation.
Under the military dictatorship Fiji rates as one of the worst nations for denial of basic rights.
Basic workers’ rights:
· to organize,
· to be part of a union,
· to demand decent workplaces protected by collective agreements.
Fijian unionists are intimidated by thugs in military and police uniforms.
· in their offices,
· in car parks, or,
· even at home in front of their families.
Police spy on their every move.
· Listen into their every telephone conversation.
· Track their emails.
The regime has charged senior unionists with treason.
Two union leaders still have charges and court proceedings over their heads.
Some of the charges are obviously trumped up.
And the court proceedings have been allowed to stretch out for more than two years.
Every time a court date scheduled for hearing Fiji prosecutors ask for another adjournment.
Legal proceedings are misused – to threaten and control
individuals by stringing out the court process interminably.
Most recently the regime has made it illegal for any Fijian union or unionist to be involved in Fijian politics.
Now here at the AWU we are proud of our historic role in creating the Australian Labor Party.
We know it is important for unions to influence legislation by becoming involved in the democratic political process.
So to deny Fijian unions the right to be involved in democratic politics, the right to form a political party representing the interests of working people, is something we condemn – utterly.
As I said at the start Fiji is considered a top five country of interest to the global union movement.
Australia and its unions – as a close Pacific neighbor to Fiji – must play a front line role in the fight to restore workers’ rights, and restore democracy, in Fiji.
The AWU – which has a number of Fijian-Australian members across the country – is playing a special role working closely with our sister unions in that country.
And we work closely with the ACTU, which, in turn, has a special taskforce established on this issue.
We have people here who are active on that special taskforce.
Our main role must be, at the request of the Fiji union movement, to work to ensure Australia consistently highlights the human rights travesty in Fiji.
Australia’s government and unions must pressure the regime to now keep its promise to return the island to democracy by 2014.
But that democracy must not be a half-baked democracy.
It must be a full blown democracy which permits the workers’ voice to be fully and loudly heard in the corridors of Fijian politics.
I urge you to adopt our motion.
The Australian Workers’ Union is deeply concerned about the ongoing excesses of the military regime in Fiji.
The continuing harassment and intimidation of workers and their representatives in the Fijian trade union movement is completely unacceptable.
We condemn the efforts of the regime to avoid free elections, and whose delaying tactics give rise to concern that the military regime has no intention of ever relinquishing power.
There is much that needs to be done to ensure the voice of independent civil society is again heard freely, loudly and clearly in this proud Pacific Island nation.
The Fijian union movement is one of the last, organised, strong and independent institutions prepared to confront the violent excesses of a regime which, in a very religious nation, has banned church meetings because of their fear of the consequences of citizens meeting to decide their own futures.
It is because of the strength and importance of Fijian unions that several leaders, such as the Fiji Trade Union Council President (TUC), Daniel Urai, and Secretary, Felix Anthony, have been regularly targeted, arrested, beaten up in police cells, had their families threatened, and been accused of treason by the regime.
Unions in Fiji have overcome their own historic differences, to present a united voice when challenging the regime which has a near total control over the island nation.
Unions from our region have joined with the Australian Workers’ Union in global forums to salute the Fijian union movement for their crucial role in the struggle for the re-establishment of democracy and the protection of the rights of Fijian workers and their families.
Recently Felix Anthony, the Fiji TUC Secretary, when meeting with Australian unions, called on the international union movement to walk beside the island's working class, and their unions, so as to ensure the human rights of the people of Fiji are protected, and to protect and improve the working rights of all Fijians.
The United Nations International Labor Organisation recently sent a delegation to Fiji to investigate first hand the serious reports of human rights abuses and intimidation of Fijian workers and members of the Labor movement by the current regime.
This delegation was expelled against international outcry and protest at a transparent attempt to hide the truth of the situation in Fiji.
The Australian Workers’ Union resolves with a renewed fervour to take up Felix Anthony's challenge and campaign for the freedom of our Fijian brothers and sisters.
The Australian Workers’ Union will continue to highlight the Fijian struggle to the Australian government in public and in private, and we renew our call to the government to demand that the military regime immediately return the nation to civilian control, and to adopt democratic norms and allow a free media.