History of Melanesia|
Date: Sat, 26 Apr 97 11:32:17 CDT
From: rich%pencil@VMA.CC.ND.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: ICFTU: Fiji Export Policy Driven By Labor Rights Abuses
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Fiji Export Policy Driven By Labor Rights Abuses
By International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), LaborNews. 24 April, 1997.
Fiji export policy driven by labour rights abuses
Brussels, April 9 1997 (ICFTU OnLine):The Fijian government's export policy has been driven by labour rights abuses, racial and sexual discrimination, child labour and a contract labour system and includes elements of compulsion says a new report by the International Confederation of Free trade Unions (ICFTU), published today.
"The Fijian government's violation of basic labour standards is part of their policy of creating a cheap labour force to attract foreign investment and increase exports" said Bill Jordan, ICFTU general secretary.
The report analyses the government's current policy of a massive expansion of export processing zones, which now employ 13% of the country's workforce. The main export sector based in the zones is garment manufacturing, which has undergone a sustained expansion based on artificially repressed labour costs.
Workers in the export zones are often forced to work up to 24 hours a day with no overtime pay in poorly ventilated factories. Management carry out random strip searches of the women, who receive just over one third of the official poverty level of wages for a family of four. Those who try to organise for better conditions can be dismissed, and unions are excluded by companies with the support of the government.
The report describes the sexual and racial discrimination which is a part of Fiji's export sector. Women who make up one quarter of the paid workforce, are generally paid less than men, even for similar jobs. This discrepancy is particularly notable in the garment industry which employs over 30% of women. Indo-Fijian workers are discriminated against in both the rural and urban sectors.
Child labour is also a growing problem in Fiji in agriculture, particularly in the highly export-dependent sugar sector, and in small-scale businesses. Although work for children under 12 is forbidden by law in Fiji, the level of school attendance, at only 64% provides a reliable indicator that as many as 20-30,000 children are at work.
Finally, while forced labour is prohibited in the Fijian Constitution, the Fiji Trade Union Congress, (FTUC) is concerned that a contract labour system used for workers from China includes disturbing elements of compulsion. In 1994, almost all contract workers in the garment industry came from China, and had half their wages deducted and transferred to China as 'employment agency' fees. While in Fiji these workers live on the factory premises, and are rarely allowed to leave.
New labour laws, introduced in 1991 which placed restrictions on the right to strike, and on the recognition of trade unions, have been strongly criticised by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, which recommended that the government brings its legislation into line with internationally-recognised standards. One of the effects of the labour laws is that multinationals have shifted their production from other developing countries in the region such as the Cook Islands, to Fiji to take advantage of the low wages. This is just the type of situation which the WTO agreed that it wanted to avoid - globalisation contributing to falling living standards in some countries because of the exploitation of workers in others.
At the Singapore meeting, the WTO said that it would work with the ILO to ensure that WTO members observed ILO standards. The ICFTU is calling on the WTO to remind the Fijian government of the commitment to core labour standards it signed up to in Singapore and to work with the ILO to ensure that these standards are implemented.
The global trade union body has released its report on labour standards in Fiji as part of its contribution to the World Trade Organisation's trade policy review of Fiji, which will be published on April 9 in Geneva.
The report has been compiled by the ICFTU with information supplied by the FTUC, its Fijian affiliate. The ICFTU has 195 affiliated organisations in 137 countries and territories, representing 124 million members.
For further background details about the report, please contact: James Howard, ICFTU 322 224 0343 or Stephen Pursey 322 224 0333. For photographs to accompany the report, please contact Luc Demaret, ICFTU Press office on: 322 224 0212.
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