The FTUC is not surprised that the Textile and Garments Manufacturers are once again issuing threats of job losses if the National Minimum Wage is increased. This mantra has been repeated every time over the years whenever workers needed a wage adjustment. Yet when Fr. Barr’s Wages Councils attempted to get the same manufacturers to open their books to show that they really could not afford any wage adjustments, this invitation was refused. This industry has been responsible for the low wage structure in Fiji only because it has the ears of this Government and has been supporting this Government in return.
The garment industry has always been the lowest paid in the country and working conditions have been the harshest where workers are virtually locked in the factory. Many manufacturers have been paying workers on a piece rate basis depending on the number of pieces of garment employees produce. In many cases, workers have had to work long hours to earn sufficient wages. This industry also has a reputation of abusing workers, ill treating workers, using trainees and attaches on the production line to reduce wage cost. We constantly hear that the Garment industry is not doing well yet what we fail to understand is that the owners personally are doing extremely well with properties all over the place including abroad. They simply do not want to share the huge profits that they are making. They constantly are threatening to close shop if wage rates are too high. It is time to call their bluff. Section 20(1) of the Fiji Constitution clearly states that every person has a right to fair employment practices, including humane treatment and proper working conditions. Yet the Garment industry seems to enjoy exemptions from this provision of the law. We have also experienced stiff opposition from garment manufacturers denying workers their right to join trade unions and unions having excess to workplaces as allowed by law.
The FTUC recognizes that the threat from the owners to close shop was well timed for the elections. They have received good coverage from the media. The purpose was to assist the ruling party to scare workers into voting for them. Some of these factories actually allowed Aiyaz Kaiyum, the Secretary of Fiji First Party to visit the factories during working hours to speak to the workers about not demanding too much of a pay rise or jobs will be lost. The FTUC condemns such tactics by the factory owners and Aiyaz Kaiyum. This is nothing short of intimidation of workers and scare mongering. This is not how a responsible political party seeks votes of poor workers to stay in power. In fact it appears to be a desperate strategy and the FTUC calls on Aiyaz Kaiyum and the garment manufacturers to behave responsibly and respect the rights of workers to decent wages and an end to exploitation.