Monday, January 16, 2012

Unions Want Australia-Fiji Trade Deal Scrapped

Pacific Beat News - Radio Australia

Australia's trade union movement has called on the government to tear up a trade deal with Fiji.

Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney says the introduction of draconian new laws to replace the Public Emergency Regulations have turned Fiji into a police state.

She says Australia should increase pressure on the coup installed military regime in Suva by scrapping a recent deal on access for Fiji made garments into the Australian market.

Ms Kearney saysl the new public order decree also make it extremely risky for Fiji trade unions to cooperate with their overseas counterparts.

Fijian Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says through incendiary and false claims, the ACTU has proven again how out-of-touch it is with reality, and has confirmed that its interests are only self-serving.

Presenter:  Bruce Hill
Speaker:  Ged Kearney, president, Australian Council of Trade Unions

KEARNEY: Ah, the laws that have been introduced to replace the Public Emergency Regulations are worse. They can only be described as draconian and as one person in Fiji actually said it makes Fiji basically a police state. We are very concerned for the people of Fiji, we're very concerned for their human rights and particularly concerned for our trade union colleagues.

HILL: What sort of a position does it put the trade union leaders in Fiji that you've been working with in, because if they work with you to build sanctions against Fiji, which they have been doing. This essentially can mean that they could be branded terrorists and could go to prison?

That's right. The new laws essentially mean that a Fiji worker a union leader or anyone that works with other groups to put pressure on the Fiji government to change its laws or to change the system as you said will be guilty of an act of terrorism and that basically carries with it a life imprisonment penalty.

Another worrying thing about this is they basically removed any recourse through the court system for the judiciary over there for people to appeal against any charges laid against them, which, of course, is not like Australia or any other democratic country. It empowers a police officer to arrest a person without a warrant, detain them for up to 16 days. It basically gives the military any powers that the police may have. It basically makes it impossible to object, complain or fight against any of the unfair laws in Fiji.

Your organisation, the ACTU, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, and some of the overseas unions have been working with the FTUC and other unions in Fiji about this. Now that you working with them could put a bit target on their heads. Is this going to change the way that you approach this problem? If you do anything, this could land them in jail?

KEARNEY: If we do anything now whereby the Fijian organisation seem to be supporting us or collaborating with us in any way, of course it puts them at great risk, so we have to be very, very careful now about how we approach our next step. We are still very committed to fighting for rights in Fiji. We are still committed to making Australians aware. We are still committed to running a campaign that can put pressure on the Fijians to actually change their ways and we are now asking the Australian government to take stronger steps to support us in that.

HILL: What kind of stronger steps?

KEARNEY: Well, we're very disappointed that the Australian government decided to sign a trade agreement with Fiji around the textile clothing industry, to us it was an absolute farce, given that they have been very critical of the regime, they have decided to exclude them from the Pacific Island Forum, from CHOGM, from the PACER Plus trade negotiations and yet they turn around and do a blatant bilateral trade agreement. We would ask that they tear that agreement up. We understand that Fijian peacekeeping troops are still being used very broadly by the UN. This is another area where we think Australia could use its diplomatic influence to put pressure on the UN not to use Fijian forces. So we think there are other means the Australian government could take to put pressure on the Bainimarama regime.

HILL: Well, the trade union movement is fairly influential within the Labor Party which is the ruling party in Australia. Do you think they'll listen to you and actually tear up the trade agreement with Fiji which would led to possibly a lot of Fijian garment workers losing their jobs?

KEARNEY: Well, the Fijian workers in the textile industry are telling us that even though they're not covered by, for example, the Essential Industries Decree, they are treated very shabbily and very poorly anyway. They are well below the poverty line and whenever you take strong measures like boycotts or trade sanctions, yes, unfortunately, there is going to be some disadvantage to people affected by that, but you have to take a long term view of this how disadvantaged are they now by these human rights violations, how disadvantaged are they going to be in the future. The Fijian economy must be suffering because of these really outdated decrees that are affecting liberties, affecting democracy and are not giving the Fijian people any rights they deserve.

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