Soldiers move to intercept Fiji strike

09:15, Aug 21 2013

Fiji’s military has sent forces into one of the country’s major sugar mills as workers threaten to strike over wages.

The unconfirmed action comes a day ahead of the plans by the military-controlled regime to release a new constitution ahead of next year's planned democracy-restoring elections

It is not clear what the soldiers can do inside the Lautoka mill.

Sugar production remains a key part of Fiji’s economy but the powerful Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union (FSGWU) earlier this month threatened to go on strike, with 67.5 percent of voters in favour.

Union head Felix Anthony said soldiers had arrived at the Lautoka mill this afternoon.

In a statement he condemned what he says were threats by soldiers that those who went on strike "would not be allowed to return to work and would be dealt with by the military should they go on strike".

Fiji has been under military rule since the 2006 coup by military commander Voreqe Bainimarama.

"This is outright, plain intimidation of workers who have voted to take strike action," Anthony said.

The union and the regime-owned Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) have been at loggerheads leading to the balloting of FSGWU members who gave a mandate to strike.

Fiji’s sugar mills are currently in full swing.

"FSC management also continues to warn workers of the consequences of a strike. While a few workers are scared of taking action because of the threats, a large majority are prepared for strike," Anthony said.

The situation remained tense this evening.

The military regime will unveil a new constitution tomorrow after early this year rejecting and burning a draft that would have forced soldiers back to the barracks and out of the political process.

If imposed it would be Fiji’s fourth constitution since independence in 1970 and would replace a 1997 constitution drawn up by former New Zealand Governor General the late Sir Paul Reeves.

The new version has been drawn up behind closed doors and it is not clear who wrote it.

State controlled Fiji Broadcasting says the regime’s attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, will release the new document tomorrow with briefings for the media, diplomatic corps and political parties.

The public will have until September 6 to study and comment but the military appointed President Epeli Nailatikau will promulgate it that day.

It will be published in English as well as Bauan-Fijian and Fiji Hindi.

"There are certain words and phraseology that are in English language and may have not been equivalent in the vernacular languages," Sayed-Khaiyum said.

Bainimarama has promised democracy-restoring elections by next year.

Last year the regime held a nationwide constitutional forum led by Kenyan academic Yash Ghai, which New Zealand aid contributed $500,000 toward.

In January Ghai presented the new draft to the president but it was not released.

Leaked copies revealed a less than subtle civilian bid to remove the military from the political process. They have been responsible for all four of Fiji’s coups.

Its explanatory note said the new constitution "emphasises that the military does not have any role as a guardian of the constitution or conscience of the nation".

When Ghai tried to print extra copies of the new constitution, the military moved in and seized printer’s drafts. They were set fire in front of Ghai.

Bainimarama said he would re-draft the constitution that will give the military "overall responsibility" at all times for security, defence and well-being.

At the time New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the spiking of the Ghai draft was "a very disappointing development…. The fact that they have trashed the work of the commission is pretty unhelpful".


Fairfax Media