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Workers find their voice in Fiji

3 September, 2013Since launching an organising project in May, the National Union of Factory & Commercial Workers (NUFCW) has grown its membership base by 20 per cent.

Despite the difficulties faced by the trade union movement in Fiji, organising at the grass roots level by NUFCW is proving popular with workers. This is providing a voice in the workplace for workers who were previously unheard.

IndustriALL and the NUFCW launched the project following a planning meeting held earlier in the year in Sydney, Australia. During which union leaders from a wide spectrum of Industries had the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences.  The main outcome from the meeting was a decision that Fijian workers needed a voice in the workplace and the vitally important question such as health and safety, working-conditions, terms and conditions of employment should not be left to employers to decide alone.

The planning meeting also provided the opportunity to discuss and develop strategies on critical issues such as sustainability and building links through supply chains. Both IndustriALL and the International Transport Federation (ITF) have been developing close cooperation and working together to achieve this.

John Mudaliar General Secretary of the NUFCW believes that “The union movement in Fiji has a responsibility to provide a voice to as many workers as possible, community organising is the best way to do that”. Fijian workers appear to agree and the continued growth of NUFCW is an example of how this strategy is working. Organising in Fiji is not easy and many employers find ways to try to prevent unions being recognised.

Women workers also play an important part in the union’s growth strategy and 30 per cent of the NUFCW Membership are women. As well as taking part in the unions’ mainstream activities, the women also have their own programs. In some industries women provide the majority of the workforce and are vital to organising activities.

Rob Johnston Executive Director IndustriALL states “Speaking out for workers on workplace issues is a fundamental role for trade unions. In Fiji we have to have a multilayered campaign that recognises the environment that unions have to work within and try to change it, while at the same time we must also appeal to Fijian workers by focusing on day to day issues that affect them”.