On trade unions and their rights…

  • 23rd July 2011
  • 2011
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The National Farmers Union rejects claims by the Information Ministry and the Fiji Sun that its officers are paid hefty salaries and perks from union subscriptions.

“The executives of the NFU have never been paid for their services to the union. They are all honorary officials. Nor does the union provide cars or other perks to its officials,” said NFU general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry.

The union is responding to a report in today’s Fiji Sun (23 July) that trade unions in Fiji collect $3.5 million in subscriptions annually and lists farmers unions among these.

But we ask: Why is a finger being pointed at trade unionists and their salaries and perks? Why isn’t the regime disclosing what salaries and perks are being enjoyed by its own Cabinet Ministers?

This is what the whole nation is wanting to know: Why are Cabinet salaries being paid in secret by a private accounting firm closely related to the interim AG?

The unions are accountable – they present annual audited accounts to their members, and to the Registrar. This is hardly something that can be said for the interim government. Why are audited government accounts not being made public?

In its 2010 Budget Transparency survey, Transparency International has given the Fiji government zero out of 100 points, saying…“it is virtually impossible for Fiji citizens to hold its government accountable for its management of the public’s money”.

The NFU is equally surprised at statements by the Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns that union leaders were “trying to destroy the country” and that they should take up workers’ issues with the government.

People have their own view of just who is destroying this country.

The issue here is the rights of workers and trade unions, and not who is paid what and drives what. The regime has breached ILO Conventions by promulgating decrees and implementing policies that restrict or completely remove workers’ rights and threaten the very survival of trade unions.

Fiji has ratified these ILO Conventions and must act in conformity with them. It cannot promulgate laws that contravene these Conventions or go around physically bashing union leaders.

One wonders therefore whether the Prime Minister and his government are not being misled by certain people with their own agendas.

Both the local unions and the international trade union movement have written to the government protesting against its anti-union policies and decrees. There has been no response.

How does one take up issues with a government that does not respond to concerns raised with it, does not consult and thinks it can govern through arbitrary decisions, suppression of rights, intimidation and physical violence, Ms Smith-Johns?

NFU was among the first to be targeted by the regime following the imposition of the Public Emergency Regulations in April 2009. It has not been allowed to hold its branch or annual meetings since May 2009.

In January 2010, the regime ordered FSC to cease making at-source deductions of subscriptions of the NFU – no doubt to cripple the Union financially.

The NFU rejects claims by the interim Attorney General (Fiji Sun 23 July) that the Bainimarama government “has never said that trade unionists should be banned and that unionists should be stopped from carrying on their activities”.

The regime’s actions and utterances to decimate the unions are there for all to see. This has also been publicly stated in the case of the sugar industry.

Example: The NFU has been stopped from carrying out its activities as a union by government’s refusal to grant it permit to hold its branch meetings and annual general meetings; its officials have been intimidated, detained and even charged and taken to court for carrying out their duties.

The sacking of Growers Councillors has deprived cane farmers of their right to representation on a body that is funded by them. They have been marginalised and deprived of a voice in an industry in which they have 70% stake.

The withdrawal of at-source deduction of subscriptions for cane growers’ organisations is clearly an attempt to cripple these unions.

What more evidence is needed to demonstrate the anti-union stance of the authorities?

MP Chaudhry
NFU General Secretary