PRESS RELEASE BY PERMANENT SECRETARY FOR
INDUSTRY AND TRADE
Certain Trade Unions are threatening the jobs of ordinary Fijian workers by asking the United States to punish Fiji for its labour reforms.
Instead of working with the Government to create jobs, improve efficiency and, attract new investment, certain leaders of the union movement are intent on destroying Fiji’s export economy.
The action of the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) and others in seeking American sanctions against our own nation is sabotaging the economy and threatening people’s livelihood.
The Unions want to stop Fiji from benefiting from the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Scheme which, since 1976, has given certain Fijian exporters (similar to exporters from other developing countries) the great economic advantage of duty free entry into the US.
If these Unions have their way, 39 Fijian companies which now export a range of products will lose their preferential access and benefits from the US GSP Scheme. This will mean an immediate loss of export revenue of US $57m. Fijian companies and firms in the fisheries, agriculture, garments and mineral water sector will lose their business, and these includes small and medium enterprises that export niche products to the US.
Ultimately, 15,000 Fijian jobs will be lost if Fiji is removed from the US GSP Scheme, which is what certain Union Leaders are petitioning for. Impact will be felt at grass-roots level as most of the workers (more than 50%) in these factories are women and are the sole bread-winners in their family. On average there are five persons per household in Fiji, the loss of 15,000 jobs would mean loss of support and livelihood to potentially 75,000 Fijian citizens.
Ironically, these Union Leaders are harming ordinary Fijian workers, whose rights they claim to champion. Their actions demonstrate that they are not acting on behalf of the Fijian workers, but for their own political and personal agendas.
The Bainimarama Government has worked hard to persuade certain union leaders to accept the need for labour reform. We want to empower ordinary workers in individual workplaces rather than having conditions imposed by union bosses from outside.
Across a broad front, the Government is acting to re-invigorate government owned enterprises to protect existing jobs and create new ones.
We have been willing to work in partnership with workers’ representatives and in turn some of them are willing to work with us. But we cannot work with Union Leaders whose actions seriously damage the Fijian economy and destroy the jobs of ordinary people and affect the livelihood of the working poor.
The Bainimarama Government is acting to lift wages and standards of employment, not keep Fijians in the straightjacket imposed on them by Union Leaders who place their own interests ahead of their members.
Certain Trade Union Leaders are engaged in battles with each other to advance their own positions. These have produced a very public war of words.
The interests of ordinary workers must not be sacrificed as these misguided individuals struggle for power and the spoils of office.
The welfare of the entire country is now being jeopardized in favor of these leaders’ own self-interest. It is high time for these unions to represent the best interests of Fijian workers, and put their own interests to the side.