The union determined it had no other choice, as the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC), the public entity that owns and manages the sugar mills, has completely refused to bargain with the union, has routinely violated the labour law and has ignored previous collective bargaining agreements. Mill workers have not had a raise in seven years and many live in poverty. After the union filed its notice, the FSC announced a token wage increase that does not begin to address the over 40% decline in real wages for sugar mill workers over the last seven years.
FSC management has held meetings in all work stations in order to intimidate union members not to vote and even threatened that if they voted the FSC would turn their names over to the government – a military dictatorship since 2006. Since 23 July, when balloting started, police and military officers were also present at the polling sites to threaten and intimidate workers. The Attorney General, the architect of many repressive decrees that have stripped workers and citizens of their fundamental rights, has now issued threats to the union via the state-dominated press. The latest threat stated that the government will intervene to keep the mills running in the case of a strike. This has been interpreted to mean that the military will be mobilized as replacement labour and/or that the government will place the sugar sector under the scope of the Essential National Industries (ENI) Decree. The ENI Decree, repeatedly condemned by the International Labour Organization, strips away almost all rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
“The ITUC condemns these extremely serious violations of freedom of association,” stated Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC. “The regime has shown nothing but contempt for the rule of law and the interests of its own citizens. This thuggish behaviour, in addition to the previous beatings, arbitrary arrests, surveillance of unionists and the wholesale gutting of the nation’s labour laws, is why workers around the world are calling for the establishment of an ILO Commission of Inquiry this year. This rogue regime must be stopped.”