They said they would and they did. Nurses walked off the job everywhere in Fiji at midnight just as they had promised. The nurses are taking a brave stand not only on their own behalf but that of all public services workers in what is the first real protest since the military government in Fiji lifted a state of emergency.
Since taking power in a coup last December, Fiji's military government has cut the wages of public servants and reduced the compulsory retirement age.
Unions have warned the interim Government not to disrupt their strike by bringing in scab labour or using threats that the military is capable of handling things because they, as workers of this country, have the right to go on strike.
General secretary of the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, Attar Singh, said replacing nurses with outsiders is illegal. “That is the point and the message that we have sent to the administration and we hope that the administration will be better advised that if the strike does go ahead it’s only because of its own inaction and failures and that in such an event it’ll be illegal and wrong for it to replace our striking members by scab labour.”
Before the walk out began, the Fiji Nurses Association says it would not be intimidated by crowd control exercises carried out by armed riot police and the military.
Recently, armed police and military personnel have been seen practising crowd control exercises that have drawn comparisons to the Tiananmen Square type tactics.
The FNA general secretary, Kuini Lutua, says if they do go on strike, protests will be peaceful and she’s baffled at the display of force, when a number of its union members are married to police and military men.
“We’re telling them you are not going to be that stupid to take that type of action against your wife, your mothers. Fiji’s a very small place, almost everybody is related to somebody and we don’t know how these people will face us,” said the general secretary of the Fiji Nurses Association (FNA), Kuini Lutua.
The FNA received 98 per cent of support from nurses in a secret ballot for a strike mandate earlier this year.
A local Fijian blogger says that the nurses and teachers have the support of majority Fijians who are ready to show their support for the strike. It says that it is expected these Fijian supporters will visit these protestors with food, money, grog and the usual Fijian “giving” gesture, something similar to that in 2000 when masses of Fijians moved to Parliament House to show their support.
The following is from the Brisbane Times.
1,500 nurses go on strike in Fiji
About 1,500 Fiji nurses have gone on strike in the country's first major protest since the military government lifted a state of emergency last month.
Fiji Nursing Association (FNA) general secretary Kuini Lutua said her members walked out of hospitals at midnight (10pm AEST).
"We had our vans waiting for them at the hospitals and we are taking them to FNA headquarters where they will meet," Lutua said minutes after her members walked off the job.
She said nurses were demanding the reversal of a five per cent wage cut imposed by the interim government.
Since taking power in a coup last December Fiji's military government has cut the wages of public servants and reduced the compulsory retirement age in a bid to rein in spending.
Other public servants have lodged strike action to occur from August 2 in protest at the new policies.
The Fijilive website has reported a warning from Police Commissioner Commodore Esala Teleni that no one other than the striking workers will be allowed to participate in the industrial action.
"We have received intelligence that there may be people out there who will try to disrupt the strike," Teleni said.
The strikes in Fiji have prompted Australia to update travel warnings to people in the country.
"You should avoid demonstrations, street rallies and public gatherings as such events could result in civil disorder," the advice reads.
"There may be some strike action by civil servants, including nurses, in July and August."
The strike by nurses is the first large public protest since the military government lifted a state of emergency that had been in place since February.
The Public Emergency Regulations came into force in February and outlawed political protests.
The regulations restricted personal liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. They were lifted on June 1 amid pressure from the European Union.
Self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama last week warned that anyone trying to politicise industrial action will face consequences.
"Government respects the unions' right to go on strike provided they conduct themselves and act responsibly. However, people who are going on strike for political reasons will be dealt with severely," Bainimarama said last week.
Lutua said the FNA did not want the strike to become a forum for people to have wider political debate.
"We are asking our members to try and have control of the crowd that is coming to show support for them," she said.