Unions Warn Fijian Elections Will Be A Sham Unless True Democracy And Human Rights Are Restored

The peak union bodies of Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have jointly written to their governments warning next year’s Fiji elections will be a sham unless international efforts are stepped up to restore democracy in the Pacific island nation.

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[Picture: Visit - http://destinationfiji.org/ - And tell Fiji to respect workers' rights]

The ACTU, Trades Union Congress and New Zealand Council of Trade Unions have set this September as a deadline for Fiji to demonstrate the elections will be free and fair.

If there are not improvements by then, they urge their governments to withdraw all financial and technical support from the Fijian elections.

The lobbying comes as more than 5000 people have already sent emails to their governments and the Fijian regime as part of an international online and social media campaign to highlight abuses of worker and human rights there.

The Destination Fiji: A Vacation from Workers’ Rights<http://www.destinationfiji.org/> campaign uses social media to allow people to directly call for the use of Australia’s diplomatic and economic clout to force change in Fiji, which has been living under a dictatorship since the military seized control in a coup in 2006.

In the letter, jointly signed by ACTU President Ged Kearney, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and CTU Secretary Peter Conway, unions say that Fiji has gone backwards from pledges by the military dictatorship that next year’s elections would be free and fair. They say a recent government decree is designed to eliminate the political opposition from taking part.

They also observe that the regime has ignored criticism from the International Labour Organisation of continued attacks on workers’ rights, including assault, harassment and intimidation of union leaders who are also prominent opposition spokespeople.

“The regime has made it clear that it has no intent to play by the rules,” the letter says. “It has made a mockery of the constitutional reform process, has eliminated much of the political opposition, [and] will re-impose draconian decrees that limit speech and assembly.”

Ms Kearney said crunch time was approaching for Australia to take real and effective action if a framework for democracy and fundamental rights were not restored by September. She said people could back the lobbying of unions by taking action through the Destination Fiji campaign.

“Behind the image of a beautiful tropical paradise, the reality for Fijian workers is falling living standards and widespread poverty that has worsened because of the crackdown on labour rights by the Bainimarama military regime,” Ms Kearney said. “We need to tell our governments that they can do more to influence real change and help ordinary Fijians get their paradise back.”

The General Secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Congress, Felix Anthony said the campaign was about delivering respect and justice for Fijian workers.

“We believe this campaign adds another element to the long struggle of the Fijian people to end the military dictatorship which harms the human rights of our people - and to deliver a transparent and democratic Fiji for our children and grandchildren,” he said.