Table of Contents
Fiji’s 2006 coup brought to power a government determined to resist industrial action. Seven months after Bainimarama seized power, Fiji’s 1,500 nurses walked out of the country’s hospitals in a strike over pay and conditions. The nurses were aggrieved that the interim government had cut their pay by five per cent (as it had for all other civil servants), lowered the retirement age, and failed to implement a wide-ranging agreement reached with the deposed government of Laisenia Qarase before the 2006 election. The government treated the strikers with contempt, offering one per cent, and then refusing to negotiate further. Exhausted, short of money, and more eager than ever to find jobs overseas, the nurses were forced back to work after sixteen days. Mahendra Chaudhry, despite his credentials as a former union leader, was as dismissive of the nurses’ cause as the military man who had appointed him finance minister. Kuini Lutua, as general secretary of the Fiji Nursing Association, was at the centre of these events, leading the strike, encouraging her members to stand firm – and condemned by Chaudhry and other ministers. She is the author of this first-person account of events.
The nurses’ defiance encouraged others to follow suit. Unions affiliated with the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions (FICTU) – the Fijian Teachers Association (FTA), the Fiji Public Employees Union, and the Viti National Union of Taukei Workers – walked off the job on 2 August, though without the same solidarity or unity of purpose as the nurses; the teachers called off their strike within a day and other workers held out for only a week. Meanwhile, Taniela Tabu, spokesman for FICTU, was arrested. He later claimed to have been forced to strip to his underwear and humiliated. Military officers, he said, threatened him with death if he were summoned to the barracks again.
As Vijay Naidu shows (chapter 11), the strikes revealed deep splits within the Fiji trade union movement. The Fiji Trade Union Congress and its affiliate unions, widely regarded as sympathetic to the coup, had already settled for the one per cent pay increase offered by the government, and offered no assistance to its rival FICTU when FICTU unions went on strike. Bainimarama thought the strikes vindicated his coup. He pointed out that he led a non-elected government, and could therefore resist interest groups in the interest of the country as a whole. ‘We do not have to worry about votes’, he said. ‘This Government is not going to budge.’
 ‘We have no voters to please: Bainimarama’, fijilive, 3 August 2007.