Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Australian unions plan fact finding trip to Fiji

Radio Australia News - 07 December 2011

Illegal Fiji AG & Bainimarama Puppeteer
Australian trade unions have been strongly criticised by Fiji for comparing the country to human rights abusers Burma and Zimbabwe.
Illegal Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says the Australian Council of Trade Unions' call to place Fiji on the blacklist of the Labor Party platform, is absurd and a gross abuse of unionist influence over Australian foreign policy.

He says a fact finding delegation from the Australian union movement is scheduled to visit Fiji, and while the country welcomes any credible fact finding mission, the interim government cannot believe that the ACTU will be objective and fair.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says the ACTU has "destroyed any sense of credibility by moving to conduct its 'fact-finding mission' after declaring our free and open country akin to nations torn apart by violent atrocity".

Interview with Ged Kearney, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions  ,

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Ged Kearney, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions 

KEARNEY: I think you have to put our visit into context and understand what has gone before. We actually have had a mission to Fiji by the ILO and Mr Samavia, the Director-General of the ILO himself issued a public statement expressing grave concerns about what is occurring in Fiji right now and calls on the Fiji government to actually rescind many of its rather draconian degrees that are curtailing the rights of Fijians. We've also had a resolution from the International Trade Unions Confederation condemning Fiji for the human rights violations, particularly in relation to trade unionists and the activities of trade union members. And we now have the resolution from the ILO Asia-Pacific regional meeting in Kyoto, just yesterday, also outlining the human rights violations occurring in Fiji, particularly in relation to trade unionists and also calling on the Fijian regime to rescind all their decrees and ensure that the recommendations of the ILO Freedom of Association are actually fully implemented. We also have had many, many concerns from Fijians and trade unionists in Fiji contact the International Trade Union Movement, including Australia, and express their concern at what's occurring there. So it isn't as if we've just decided willy nilly out of the blue to go to Fiji and see how things are going. We have had ongoing concerns in the international community, not just the trade union community, but the United Nations itself expressing concerns about what's happening in Fiji. And so our visit is actually in that context, so it's quite unfair to say that we have just dreamed up some preconceived ideas about what's happening in Fiji. Everything is based very soundly on international information and pressure on Fiji and we are actually going there ourselves to validate for ourselves the next steps that we would like to take as far as what is occurring in Fiji. So it's quite erroneous and quite mischievous I think of Mr Sayed-Khaiyum to say those statements.

COUTTS: Were you invited or did you ask to go on this fact finding mission?

KEARNEY: No, we haven't been invited. We have been asked by the International Trade Union Movement to actually take a delegation. It's not just Australia, there's also New Zealand, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions are also attending, but we thought it was important for our affiliates who we're asking to join us in trying to enact some change in Fiji, to have some actual I guess first hand discussions with the Trade Union Movement in Fiji with workers in Fiji. And we actually wrote to Mr Sayed-Khaiyum asking to meet with his as well. We are also going in meeting with the ILO and hopefully some business leaders in Fiji just to see how the decrees and the new laws are affecting people there.

COUTTS: Will you be part of that delegation to Fiji?

KEARNEY: Yes, I will.

COUTTS: Now another point that was made in Mr Sayed-Khaiyum's press release says a report by the Australian government's own think-tank says how much isolation tactics against Fiji have only hindered Australia, the blacklisting will contribute to that?

I think that he is referring to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute who released a report only some weeks ago calling on the Australian government to soften sanctions against Fiji. But the report completely and totally ignores the human rights violations that are occurring in Fiji right now. The public emergency regulations there absolutely are an abrogation of human rights. They do not allow more than three people to meet freely without a permit and that includes churches, so people who wish to have religious ceremonies have to get permission from the government. It includes community meetings and of course it includes trade union meetings and we know that the military there have physically broken up trade union meetings on a number of occasions, actually even when the trade unions have gone as far as seeking permission to hold meetings, we'll say having an AGM. The last AGM of the FTUC was authorised, then broken up by the military.

The report also fails to really recognise the fact that there is no freedom of press in Fiji. It fails to recognise many of the human rights violations a the PER, the public emergency regulations actually does put on Fijians. It also fails to recognise the fact that we are having first hand stories of people who have been intimidated, harassed, threatened with violence, simply for being trade unionists and thrown in jail.

Now we know, I know that Mr Sayed-Khaiyum has accused us of putting them in the same basket as Zimbabwe and Burma. That itself is not entirely accurate. However, what was said at the Labor Party platform, and I actually spoke to the resolution that was put at the platform is that we know that Australians do not tolerate by and large countries or regimes that violate human rights and you can see that in the way we are concerned about countries like Zimbabwe and Burma and how we railed against apartheid in South Africa. And so if we are prepared to actually stand up and say that is not right, then equally we are willing to stand up and say that what is occurring in Fiji is not right.

COUTTS: Well, what happens in practical terms if Fiji is placed on the blacklist?

KEARNEY: Well, there are already sanctions against Fiji. Certain people are not allowed to travel to Australia and we are putting a lot of international pressure on Fiji to change those decrees that are actually violating human rights. So really we would hope that there would perhaps be further sanctions, that those sanctions are not in any way relaxed. 

We are looking at ways that we can further actually pressure the regime to change its ways. I've been quite open on this program in the past to say that we are considering campaigning against people actually travelling to Fiji, which is a very serious step for us to take. We are looking at further trade sanctions. We are asking the government to examine current trade agreements with Fiji. There are lots of things I guess that we can do. I'm not entirely sure exactly what's going on a blacklist entails, that's probably something you'd need to ask a government official.

COUTTS: Alright, well what will it take for you to change your attitude, what are you looking to find when you go to Fiji?

KEARNEY: Well, it's really very simple. We have asked to meeting with Sayed-Khaiyum and we are asking him if there is any intention for him to release, to withdraw the decrees that are restricting human rights, particularly the public emergency regulations and also the decrees that are very anti-trade union. I could go through all of those if you like, but they are incredibly repressive and violate really all trade union rights for people working in Fiji. We're asking for removal of media censorship and the return to respect for freedom of speech and the rights for people to peacefully assemble. I mean you can't actually have free and open elections as the attorney-general refers to in Fiji if indeed you can't hold a public meeting and you cannot use the media to actually, as future politicians or prospective politicians would do, to say what they stand for. So that's a nonsense to say that any elections can actually be open and transparent with the current restrictions that are on.

We want a central arbitrary detention. We would like them to stop arresting people just for being in trade unions and we would like a return to the rule of law and particularly reinstatement of and respect for an independent judiciary. When the judiciary in Fiji ruled that the coup was illegal, Mr Bainimarama, of course, just sacked all the judges and installed his own judiciary. So we don't expect these things to happen overnight, but these are the things that we would like to see occur in Fiji.

Have you actually had a response from your request to meet with the interim attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum?

We did receive a letter from the attorney-general expressing very much the sentiment that you read out in your introduction and he did not at all research or having a meeting with us. So we will write to him again and say notwithstanding your concern about the delegation, we would still like to meet with you.

COUTTS: And given his concerns, do you think they'll allow you to actually enter the country?

Well, I'm not sure, that remains to be seen when we get there. We to this date have not been told that we won't be able to enter the country, we haven't been advised that that's the case. There will be about at least half-a-dozen may be eight of us attending from New Zealand and Australia, so it will be very interesting to see what happens when we actually get to Fiji.

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