Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fiji: the first test

One of the first moves of Fiji's military junta after illegally seizing power in December last year was to try and balance the budget. It did this by the simple expediants of a unilateral 5% pay cut across the civil service, and lowering the retirement age to 55 (allowing it to effectively fire a large number of senior public servants). These moves did not go down well with the affected civil servants, and they have been threatening strike action ever since. last night, it finally began, when 90% of Fiji's nurses walked off the job until their pay is restored. The teachers are due to follow them next week, and other public servants may soon join in as well.

This is the first real test the junta has faced, and so far they are handling it badly, threatening to fire striking workers and hinting darkly at "taking action" if the strike adopts a "political" tone or results in public protests. In an ominous sign, the police have been put on alert, and the army has held a televised "riot control" drill more reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square massacre. It's a clear effort to intimidate the nurses and other workers into surrendering their employment rights, but fortunately so far they are having none of it. There is a real worry though that the military will follow through on these threats and disrupt the strike with force - and if that happens things could get very messy indeed.