We often see organized labour under attack here in Canada. Anti-union legislation and malicious articles in the media often seem like it can’t get worse. But it can. Recent events in Fiji offer yet another reminder that the situation can get worse and also reinforces the notion that organized labour must always be on guard for forces that would seek to undermine the rights of workers.
At the Lautoka Mill in Fiji workers for the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) have been threatening to strike over inadequate wages. A 67.5% majority of workers voted in favour of a strike. But efforts are being made to change the workers’ minds. Not good faith negotiation efforts, mind you, but rather demonstrations of force. The workers have been warned that should they go on strike they will be “dealt with” by the military.
Military workers have even been bussed in to inspect the mill. There is no information on what the soldiers are authorized to do inside the mill, which makes one wonder exactly what “dealt with” could mean.
But the union isn’t backing down. The Fiji Sugar and General Workers’ Union (FSGWU) has issued a press release denouncing the military’s actions as “outright plain intimidation of workers”. Indeed, it would be hard to interpret a military presence in a sugar mill as anything less than that. This is especially true in Fiji, which has been under military rule since a coup in 2006.
The management of the FSC are also said to be warning the workers that a strike could have dire consequences. The military has even told workers that if they go on strike they won’t be allowed back to work again. The union asserts that the FSC management have taken to bullying as a substitute for negotiating in good faith. The union calls on the government to enforce Fiji’s laws permitting the right to strike and to put a stop to these intimidation tactics.
Though some workers are reported to be too frightened to strike and to take action against the management, but the majority are prepared to strike. One can only hope that no workers are injured if they exercise their right to strike.
It’s a shame to have to draw a comparison to the actions of the Ontario Liberals when they enacted the PSFA, ignored their obligation to bargain in good faith and restricted the teachers’ right to strike. But while it may be shame, the similarities are also too obvious to ignore. If Fiji wants to avoid international shame, it must respect the rights of workers and negotiate in good faith, just as the Liberals tried to do when the teachers’ unions wouldn’t simply roll over to the government’s repressive tactics. It’s the only sensible way forward and we hope the Fiji government will realize that good government entails good faith negotiation with workers.