Good News- Charges Dropped : Andrew Casey

By Andrew Casey

At last, some good news from Fiji

IT came out of nowhere. Unions in Fiji, and across the globe, were gearing up for a fight to defend Fiji’s  ‘Sheraton Six’  – hotel union activists threatened with jail for an ‘illegal strike’.

The regime had declared that Daniel Urai – the leader of the Fiji Hotel Union and President of the Fiji Trade Union Congress – and five others, had contravened the Essential National Industries decree.

Out of the blue the Fiji Director of Public Prosecutions,  Christopher Pryde,  this week announced he will withdraw all charges against the Sheraton Six – Daniel Urai, Peni Finau, Sikeli Gavidi, Isei Levula, Merewai Vocevoce and Akariva Nawai.

The Fiji police had failed to give the DPP any proof that the regime’s draconian Essential National Industries decree – allowing them to ban stoppages – had actually been broken.

A small step to restore workers’ rights

This is an important win. But it is just a small step in the campaign to restore workers’ rights, human rights and democracy to the small Pacific island state.

Unions across the globe are now campaigning for the International Labour Organisation to set up a Commission of Inquiry into the regime’s appalling abuses of trade union rights.

There is history here. In September 2012 an ILO fact-finding mission was kicked out of the country as they arrived at Fiji’s international airportThen a couple of months later an ACTU-led delegation was detained and then sent home on landing in Fiji.

The Fiji Trade Union Congress – acknowledging the importance of global union campaigns – wants unions from around the world to ‘continue their much-needed support for campaigns against the violation of our workers’.

In response the International Trade Union Confederation, and other global union federations are leading  a campaign for the ILO to return to Fiji and investigate the state of worker rights.

National union centres, such as New Zealand’s NZCTU, are calling on governments to write to the ILO also backing a Commission of Inquiry.

Unfortunately here in Australia our government has decided to stop funding the ILO the United Nations’ oldest institution. So my guess is the ACTU won’t get any help from our PM to get the ILO to investigage Fiji!

It all started hours before the 2013 New Year’s Eve celebrations. Four hundred-plus Fiji resort workers held a wildcat lightning stoppage to protest management’s decision to take away working conditions – without consultation.

Strike over almost before it began

The stoppage was short and sharp. Management agreed to come back within 14 days and respond to the workers’ claims.

Police from the capital, Suva, arrived at the Sheraton resort to declare the workers had taken part in an ‘illegal strike’. But they arrived after the stoppage was all over.

They looked silly. Opponents of the regime gleefully mocked the clumsiness of the dictator and his sidekicks.

The regime’s Labour Minister denied he ordered the police to arrest people – but strong rumours suggest the arrest orders came from higher up.

Red-faced, and seemingly in retaliation, the police wreaked havoc at the hotel union’s office. They took computers, phones and other office equipment  ‘ for evidence’.

The retaliation failed. The hotel union office was up and running again within days – thanks to global solidarity.

The global hotel union, the IUF, quickly provided their Fiji affiliate with funds to replace the equipment now held in a Fiji police cell.

Still the police kept hounding many of the 400-plus Starwood Sheraton Resort workers who were members of Daniel’s hotel union.

Massive email campaign

But morale amongst the Fiji hotel workers was strong.

A massive email campaign was triggered by LabourStart bombarding the regime with protests from everywhere; and the global hotel union the IUF separately got hotel workers to send e-mail protests to Starwood Sheraton  head office.

Meanwhile the Australian unions’ Fiji campaign site sent several emails, used its Facebook and Twitter platforms to tell its hundreds of supporters to join these protest campaigns.

The small Fijian economy, dependent on tourism – especially from Australia and New Zealand – could not stand the nearly 15,000 email protests delivered . . . and growing.

The FTUC has now thanked LabourStart, the IUF and the ITUC  for the latest support, because it let the regime know that the jailing of the Sheraton Six would have unleashed a torrent.

However the Fijian unions expect the struggle will continue until the dictatorship is finally forced out at promised elections in eight months’ time.

Many in Fiji are not sure that the promised election will actually happen but the FTUC expects local and international campaigns will prevail

“We however have not lost faith and the success of this recent campaign is testament to the solidarity between us,” FTUC Secretary, Felix Anthony, says.