Secret Russian arms donation to Fiji raises concerns of bid for Pacific influence

Source: The Guardian

At least 20 containers, believed to be full of weapons and military hardware, were landed in the former British colony.

A secretive shipment of weapons and military hardware donated by Russia to the military of Fiji may be an “opening move” in a battle for influence in the Asia-Pacific region security experts have said.

The 20-container shipment – sent by the Russian government to its recently-forged ally – was unloaded from a cargo ship in Suva last week. It will be followed by Russian military personnel arriving in the archipelago nation next month to act as “trainers” for the new arsenal.

The manifest of the arms shipment remains unknown. It is believed to contain mainly small arms, but opposition politicians, concerned by the secrecy of the transfer, have speculated it may include a helicopter, heavy weaponry or non-lethal munitions intended for domestic crowd control.

Fiji has said it will formally unveil the weapons in February, but some in the country are skeptical the entire arsenal will be publicly revealed.

The weapons, the Fiji government has said, will re-arm Fijian peace-keepers serving in UN missions overseas with modern weapons.

A significant proportion of the Fiji military is currently involved in such missions. Currently, just under 1,000 troops are on duty in the Sinai, Syria, Golan Heights, Iraq, and Lebanon, and the Fijian government is anxious to maintain its commitment.

UN assignments are profitable, and the Fijian troops themselves earn significantly more money on peace-keeping duties with the UN than while on regular defence force pay. Their remittances back home are a significant boost to the economy.

Confirming the arrival of the consignment, acting commander of the Republic of  Fiji Military Forces, Rear-Admiral Viliame Naupoto said the weapons were needed because Fijian peacekeepers were working in volatile areas “[and] they are using outdated arms”.

“I must thank the Government of Russia for the timely donation.”

Director of the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute, Jenny Hayward-Jones told The Guardian the Russian military transfer was “definitely unusual”, but needed to be seen in the context of Fiji seeking new diplomatic and military allies in the wake of its fractious recent political history.

After then Commodore Bainimarama led a military coup to seize control of the country in 2006, traditional allies Australia, New Zealand, and the US imposed military, travel, and financial restrictions on Fiji, which severely strained relations.

In response, Fiji sought new international partners – establishing 57 new diplomatic partnerships since 2006 – and, in particular, deepening ties with first China, and now, Russia.

“For a while now, Fiji has been looking for other relationships as it moved away from the traditional partners of Australia-New Zealand for military co-operation.”

On the Russian side, the arms transfer may have begun as “simply transactional”, Hayward-Jones said.

“But it would be naive to say that Russia does not have intentions. And it will be aware of the perceptions this will create.”

Dr Paul Buchanan, director of 36th Parallel Security Assessments, said he believed the decline of ‘the West’s’ influence in Fiji was terminal, and Fiji’s desire for new partners coincided with China and Russia seeking to project their influence across the Asia-Pacific.

“The sanctions didn’t succeed in hurting Fiji, they succeeded in alienating Fiji. Just as the Obama administration has had its ‘Look East’ pivot towards Asia, Fiji has had a ‘Look North’ pivot, which is really a misnomer because it just meant ‘Look Anywhere Else’.”

Russia has worked assiduously to deepen economic, diplomatic, and military ties with Fiji. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was the first senior Russian government official to visit Fiji in 2012, and the next year, Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama became the first Fijian leader to pay a state visit to Russia.

Fijian officers will now study at Russian military academies, Buchanan said.

“It strikes me that we could see in 10 to 15 years, regular visits by Russian naval ships to Suva. And perhaps in 20 years, China and/or Russian being granted forward basing rights in Fiji.”

“I think this is an opening pawn move in what’s going to be a much longer chess game.”

Fiji opposition whip Ratu Isoa Tikoca, from the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), speculated the shipment contained not only small arms and ammunition, but tanks and a helicopter.

“The covertness of getting this across without notifying the public, without notifying … parliament, this is not an issue that was even raised in the committee that looks after foreign affairs and defence,” he told Radio Australia.

“I demand that the government, the prime minister, the commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Force open those consignments and reveal what it is.”

Buchanan said the imminent arrival of Russian military trainers in Fiji raised suspicions about exactly what had been delivered.

“The Fiji military is capable. It doesn’t need Russians to teach recruits how to fire a sub-machine gun.”

He said reports that the Russian consignment included tear gas and other non-lethal munitions, raised concerns those weapons might be used for crowd control of the local population.

Hayward-Jones told The Guardian it was legitimate to question what exactly Fiji had received.

“I think the Fiji opposition, and the public, has a right to know what exactly has been bought here, for what does the government intend to use these weapons, where, and in what circumstances.

“But I also think people need to ask why? We need to look at the broader context and ask: what is Fiji intending here?”

ILO Reaffirms ERP Amendment not Compliant

FTUC PRESS RELEASE NO. 83-01/16

ILO Reaffirms ERP Amendment not Compliant

The ILO Committee of Experts have completed its review of the Employment Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 and have concluded that much of the amendment is not in compliance with the Core Conventions, contrary to what Government had claimed all along. The FTUC had maintained that the Amendment Act did not address issues that were critical to the submission of a joint report to the Governing Body of ILO. The FTUC maintains that Government has not honored the Tripartite Agreement it signed in Geneva on 25th March 2015.

The Experts have addressed about 14 areas where the Amendment is deficient and a whole host of Sections and Sub- sections of the Amendment Act to be amended. The areas of concern listed by the Experts are:

  1. The Non compliance with the Tripartite Agreement
  2. Assault of Felix Anthony and cases against Daniel Urai remain pending
  3. Various provisions of the ERP Amendment Act including the inclusion of ENI Decree provisions within the Amendment Act and the expanded list of Essential Industries.
  4. Use of Bargaining Units to undermine Trade Unions
  5. Nomination of representatives in ERAB
  6. Remedy for de-registered Unions under ENI Decree
  7. Reinstatement of disputes terminated under ENI Decree
  8. Denial of Prisons Officers their right to form and join Unions.
  9. Excessive discretionary powers of the Registrar of Trade Unions
  10. Interference into Trade Union affairs and provisions for compulsory arbitration
  11. Right of Unions to formulate their own programs and activities. There are some 14 sub sections that need amendment in the Amendment Act.
  12. Public Sector being classified as Essential Service and restrictions applicable
  13. Electoral Decree S154 placing restrictions of Public Officers including Union Officials and employees.
  14. Similar provisions in the Fiji Constitution that breaches Freedom of Association.

All of the above matters were raised by FTUC with the Tripartite Partners. Government failed to act. This report is a sad indictment of Governments insincerity and bad faith. It reaffirms the FTUC position that much more needs to be done to ensure compliance. The report does not examine the serious issue of practice. Compliance with Core Conventions is not only that legislation is in order but also that workers are able to practice what the law provides. This is clearly not the case today. The Committee of Experts has reiterated its call to Government to work with the Tripartite Partners to review all these provisions and make amendments. The Report which was released on 11th January 2016 and made available to government by ILO was not distributed to the FCEF and FTUC as requested by ILO. The report puts matters in the right perspective and should assist the Tripartite Mission visiting Fiji next week in its work. The report of the Mission will be presented to the Governing Body of ILO in March for a decision on a Commission of Inquiry.

The FTUC calls upon Government to act honestly and honor the Agreement it had signed with the FCEF and FTUC.

FELIX ANTHONY

NATIONAL SECRETARY

APPROVAL OF 5% PAY INCREASE FOR F.N.U UNION MEMBERS

FIJI PUBLIC SERVICE ASSOCIATION NEWS LETTER

APPROVAL OF 5% PAY INCREASE

FIJI PUBLIC SERVICE ASSOCIATION NEWS LETTER

APPROVAL OF 5% PAY INCREASE

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The Fiji Public Service Association was delighted to inform their F.N.U members, that at the last F.N.U Council meeting that was held on the 29th December, 2015 at the Nasinu Campus their Association through the General  Secretary was able to successfully argue a case for a 5% pay rise across the board to be effective from the 1st January 2016. A new Performance Appraisal System is also to be implements from next year so that above average performers are recognized for their hard work and benefit monetarily by earning additional increments.

Members were informed that it was not easy to convince the employers for pay increase under current austerity measures implemented by organizations particularly those under government funding.

It is absolutely disappointing that many non-members benefit from our hard work and sustained fight to win pay rise, who then enjoy the privilege without any guilt. It is time that those free riders be identified and be told to join the union and not to ride freely on the backs of their colleagues who are paying subscription to keep the union movement viable. The management is already saying that non-members are happy without asking for a raise. The time will come that these non-members would be the reason to block further progress in pay increase and other benefits.

Future improvement to your terms and conditions of service will depend on a solid union membership in FNU otherwise it would be a goodbye to yearly expectations.

The Association is happy and satisfied that it has been able to single handedly win a pay rise for its members and for other sister unions in its bid to protect the interest of union members.

FPSA hopes that non-members will exercise their better judgement and join the colleague who are in union, without any further delay.

Wishing you all a Happy and Prosperous 2016.

In Solidarity

R. Singh

CLAIM FOR 20% PAY RISE FOR FRCA MEMBERS

FIJI PUBLIC SERVICE ASSOCIATION NEWS LETTER

CLAIM FOR 20% PAY RISE FOR FRCA MEMBERS

The Fiji Public Service Association had lodged a claim with the Chairman of the FRCA Board on Tuesday 29th December, 2015 seeking a 20% pay rise across the board to be effective from 1st January, 2016.

The basis of the claim is that in the last nine (9) years FPSA members  have not received a pay rise and under the current salary structure, Band 1 and Band 2 the FPSA members  are paid salaries below the poverty line threshold of $16,000 per annum.

Our claim is justified as our FRCA members are identified more as a working poor and the main reason have been the absence of pay increases and the elimination of inflation adjusted wage settlements.

Moreover, the real wage has declined by 40% over the years and the cost of consumer items are becoming out of reach of our members with food prices continuing to increase in an upward  trend and putting bread on the table for the family is a struggle.

The pay structure of FRCA has become a to distorted over a period of time and there is a widespread misconception that FPSA members in FRCA are earning good salaries. The current FRCA 2013 strucutre of Band 1 and Band 2 below will show that majority of FPSA members are paid below the poverty line threshold.

BAND FRCA 2013 SALARY STRUCUTRE
80% 100% 120%
1 9,093 11,366 13,369
2 12,066 15,083 18,099

The Fiji Public Service Association believes that the terms and conditions including salaries should be competitive enough to attract and retain talented and motivated staff within the organization.

FPSA hopes that all employees in FRCA will now join our struggle to get fair and just wage for everyone. It is time that free riders be told to join the union and not to ride freely on the backs of their collegues who are paying subcription to keep the union viable. The management is already saying that non-members are happy working without asking for a raise. Further benefits depend on a solid union membership otherwise a good bye to anymore benefits.

We eagerly await response from the Chairman of the FRCA Board for a negotiated settlement of our pay rise claim.

Wishing you all a Happy  and Prosperous 2016.

Yours Solidarity

R. Singh.