Fiji: Behind the deterioration of OSH conditions in sugar

After the incidents at the Rarawai sugar mill, as reported in “Fiji: Death and Burnings at FSC Rarawai mill – in less than a week,” the IUF Sugar got in contact with Felix Anthony, general secretary of the Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union (FSGWU), to ask about the workers’ safety situation in the sugar sector.

Felix reminded us of a fatal incident at the Lautoka mill in July 2013 which, among several other episodes, showed how safety and health (OSH) conditions have been deteriorating in the sugar sector. That incident resulted in a FSGWU member, Samuela Sigatokacake, dying as a result of severe burnings. Everything indicated, said the union then, that problems around the vessel have been detected but not properly fixed  – a problem that seemed to have dated from 2010. The entire bottom of the pressure vessel collapsed that day in July, and Mr Sigatokacake was splashed with extremely hot liquid. He died few days later. Felix added that no investigation reports were made available, and the union is unaware if investigations were ever held. No one took responsibility for the death.

Furthermore, the union says that “after the 2006 coup, the Military Government seriously curtailed workers rights in Fiji.” Government decrees have taken away rights of most trade unions in the country and, for instance, there is no collective bargaining in sugar and the FSGWU is not allowed access to workplaces. Without the presence of an independent union, it is not surprising that the compliance with OSH regulations in the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) has weakened, and labour inspections by the government are deficient.

The union, said Felix, has urged the Ministry of Labour to do a full safety audit of all the sugar mills; unfortunately nothing has happened to the time of writing.

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