24 Oct 2017

'Many workers too intimidated to march': Fiji union leader

8:17 pm on 24 October 2017

A union leader in Fiji says many workers were too afraid to march in a weekend rally in Suva aimed at raising the minimum wage and improving workers' rights.

Workers marching for labour rights in Suva

Workers marching for labour rights in Suva Photo: Facebook

The National Secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) Felix Anthony said about 2000 people turned up, but Fiji media put the number of attendees at between 400 and 500.

The marchers were protesting about the imposition of fixed term contracts, the need for a higher minimum wage and a review of labour laws as well as the right to strike.

Felix Anthony said 30-thousand people would have turned out if they had not felt so intimidated by the government.

"We also understand that many of the civil servants, teachers, nurses have been intimidated, are a bit scared to be seen in the march as well.

"This is because they all feel insecure in their workplace at the moment."

Following the protest, Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Fiji media the march was a way of reviving the political careers of certain leaders, a charge rejected by Mr Anthony, who led the People's Democratic Party at the 2014 election.

The party failed to get any seats and Mr Anthony resigned soon after taking up his post again at the FTUC.

"I'm not in any politics at the moment and I don't intend to contest any elections at all.

"This is just the usual way of this government brushing aside issues and side-tracking issues," said Mr Anthony.

Felix Anthony

FTUC National Secretary Felix Anthony Photo: RNZ

He said the march on Saturday demonstrated that all was not well with workers in the country.

According to Mr Anthony, the unions had been stopped from conducting secret ballots for industrial action, let alone been allowed to strike despite labour laws allowing this.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum told Fiji media there was no restriction on people going on strike as long as proper processes had been followed.

The Attorney-General said the time needed to give notice of a strike had even been reduced from 28 to 14 days.

He also said there were constitutional and legal provisions allowing the right to strike, claiming union leaders were deliberately misinforming their members.

But Mr Anthony said the unions had followed the laws to the letter.

"We still have obstacles placed before us," he said.

"It's all about us regaining our rights back and we've had government which is actually saying the right thing in the international forum but doing quite the opposite back home," said Mr Anthony.

The marchers also called for a rise in the minimum wage of FJ$2.68 to $4 (US$1.30 to US$1.94).

"There ought to be an annual review of this until we have the minimum wage as a living wage," said Mr Anthony.