By the second week of August, the Fijian police and the Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations are investigating the death of a sugar worker at the Rarawai Sugar Mill, owned by the government-owned Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC). The investigation follows a case filed by the Fiji Sugar and General Workers Union (FSGWU) to determine if there was any criminal negligence.
Keni Senimoli, 44 years of age, sole provider for his five children, aged seven to 18, suffered a “horrifying death” on July 25, while working in the bagasse conveyor. He was cleaning an obstruction in the conveyor, when the conveyor was started and he was crushed by it, said the general secretary of the FSGWU, Felix Anthony.
Adding misery to an already hard situation, it was reported that, “once the body of Mr Senimoli’s body was removed… work recommenced almost immediately, despite union concerns that there should have been an immediate investigation about…the accident.” The Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, is also the minister for sugar, which indicates a direct dependency of FSC operations on the Fijian Executive power.
Less than a week later, on July 30, another lamentable incident took place at the same Rarawai mill. An FSGWU official explained: there is a procedure to follow when cleaning tanks, that requires checking whether the liquid inside has cooled down, before workers get in for cleanning. This did not happen at the mill, and a 24-year old seasonal worker slipped and fell into practically speaking boiling water. He was taken to hospital in critical condition. He is said not to have had any training for the job he was performing.
These two incidents occur in a context in which the Fijian government has been harassing the unions, who face severe difficulties to operate in the sugar sector – not even able to run any safety inspections. The obvious deterioration of Occupational Safety and Health standards is only one of the negative impacts of the absence of an independent union organisation.
The Rarawai mill started the 2015 crushing season on 23 June. It is located in the province of Ba, in the northern region of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island and the core of the island’s sugar belt. It is listed with a daily crushing capacity of 4,000 tonnes, and an annual production of 400,000 tonnes of sugar, raw value.
The Australian ABC published a comprehensive article on the fatal incident, “Fiji sugar mill death leaves family of five without sole parent father amid concerns over industry safety.” It includes video clips and radio interviews. Available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-16/fiji-sugar-mill-death-leaves-family-of-five-without-father/6698720.
Tate & Lyle Sugar and Fiji fair-trade sugar
In related news, it was announced that Tate & Lyle Sugars, owned by ASR Group and reputed the world’s largest contributor of FairTrade premiums, will stop buying FairTrade sugar from Fiji. The company said there has been was a “dramatic” fall in sales which, it says, is related to changes in the EU sugar market and to an increase in the supply of fairtrade sugar to the EU – probably through the ABF sugar network that includes the Illovo Sugar operations in Africa. It is said that some 13,000 Fijian farmers will be affected by the decision, along with the loss of the FairTrade premium, which is about USD 60.00 per tonne of sugar. Both FairTrade Australia and New Zealand said they would continue buying fairtrade sugar from Fiji.