Fiji targets nurses in crackdown on unions  

Nurse leader detained, office raided ahead of protest over sackings and privatisation.

The General Secretary of the Fiji Nursing Association, Salanieta Matiavi, was among dozens of people arrested in Fiji during a recent crackdown on union activity.

Salanieta, who is in her 60s, was taken by police for questioning on April 30 and locked in a cell for 48 hours. She was not charged with any offence.

Also detained for up to 48 hours were the head of the Fijian Teachers’ Association, an official of Fiji’s National Union of Workers and the national secretary of Fiji’s Trade Union congress, Felix Anthony.

Anthony was arrested while he was meeting with the Minister of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, the CEO of the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation, an official of the International Labor Organisation and others.

Police also ordered 13 Teachers’ Association officials to report to the nearest police station for questioning. They were held for four hours and released.

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Judith Kiejda, who was in Fiji at the time, said police raided the Fiji Nursing Association office and took away files during Salanieta’s detention.

“It seems Salanieta was arrested and locked up as part of an attempt to intimidate union members who planned to hold a rally and march in the city of Nadi,” Judith said.

The march, which was called off, would have coincided with the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Nadi from 1-5 May.

Judith said it appeared the government was attacking union members to show the ADB it would not tolerate protests against ADB projects.

An agenda of privatisation

The ADB loans money to poor countries in the Asia Pacific region on condition they carry out public sector “reform”. That usually means privatisation of public assets and consequent job losses.

Fiji has privatised its electricity and water systems and is looking at contracting out three hospitals through so-called “public private partnerships”.

 During the arrests, several Australian and New Zealand union officials were in Nadi to attend a meeting of the global union body Public Services International (PSI). The group included NSWNMA organiser Michael Whaites, the PSI’s Oceania sub-regional secretary and Judith, a PSI board member.

Judith described the Fijian nurses as “vocal and brave. They seemed to be more worried about us getting arrested or deported than their own situation.” A delegation of Australian and New Zealand trade unionists was refused entry to Fiji and deported in 2011.

Before Salanieta and other union leaders were arrested, the Fiji Water Authority made more than 2,000 workers redundant.

According to media reports, the Water Authority workers turned up for work on May 1 only to find armed police at the gates threatening them with arrest if they tried to enter or assemble at the gates.

Twenty-nine water workers who gathered on union property were arrested, detained for 48 hours and charged with unlawful assembly under the Public Order (Amendment) Act 2012, which dates back to the former military dictatorship.

A PSI statement said a water project funded by the ADB had been contracted to a Chinese company that was likely to bring in Chinese workers to replace the laid-off local workforce.

The PSI said the ADB had an obligation to ensure human rights including trade union rights were respected at ADB-financed projects.