Strike will continue, say miners
By Norm Dixon
Fiji Mine Workers Union general secretary Kanekini Navuso has vowed that the Emperor gold mine strike will continue despite the government's anti-strike decree. He told the press: "This decree is designed by the interim government to threaten and intimidate the striking mine workers who have a right under the law of this country to go on strike and seek a peaceful solution ... [if] the decree is intended to penalise those who are destroying the economy, this government should convict Emperor Gold Mining."
Emperor has flouted Fiji's laws for years, Navuso said, and is depriving Fijians of employment. He added that the strike is over poor working and housing conditions as well as gaining recognition of the union's right to negotiate these issues with the company.
"In fact the decree is an attempt to prevent us from seeking recognition but the strike will go on and we will not back away from our demands ..."
Riot police armed with truncheons and rifles helped regular police forcibly remove 100 picketing miners from "restricted areas" at the Vatukoula mine on May 9.
The use of firearms was condemned by the Labour Coalition. Spokesperson Jone Dakuvula said that the threat to use guns against unarmed people was totally alien to the Fijian way of life. "A white man [police commissioner Philip Arnfield] sending armed black men to protect the property of another white man who refused to recognise the rights of a Fijian union reminds one of the colonial era."
Twenty-four miners arrested for "obstruction" while picketing, and who were beaten up by company-hired thugs prior to an earlier court hearing, were sentenced to suspended jail terms of six months and $30 fines by the Tavua court on May 13. The convictions were based on the evidence of Emperor's resident manager, Andrew Cullum, and a senior police officer.
On May 16, the High Court at Lautoka granted an interim injunction against striking miners picketing at the site of the mine or entering the mine area. These mounting restrictions on picketing allowed Emperor to bring in scab labour to work the underground mine shafts.