A-G Responds to Australian Union Allegations
Fiji's stand against threats of 'Hardship"*
'I love Fiji - as does the president of the Fiji Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Fijian unions, and business houses, all of whom stand united against individuals and organisations that openly and selfishly seek to disrupt our economy and create 'hardships' for all Fijians.
This week, the Republic of Fiji denied a delegation from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to visit our country. While deeply regrettable, it was a decision we had to make in the face of threats - including public acknowledgement by the ACTU’s leadership that, “We know what [the delegations] intend to do may create hardships for the Fijian people.” The irresponsibility of this admission followed weeks of malicious statements, error-laden opinion pieces - such as Paul Howe’s column which occupied this space last week - and even an announcement to move a resolution at the Australian Labour Party Conference to place Fiji on the same blacklist as the violent regimes of Burma and Zimbabwe. Ahead of its “fact-finding mission” the ACTU had already made up its mind - without being to Fiji, and only considering the unfounded claims of a handful of Fijian professional trade unionists with self vested interests.
For a government to deny anyone access to its country is a grave decision. But it was clear that the ACTU’s visit would only serve as a publicity stunt designed to advance their own unapologetically hostile viewpoints, and to promote the group’s stated agenda to damage the livelihoods of ordinary Fijians. At a time when the Bainimarama Government is working diligently to alleviate poverty and empower Fijians - as exemplified by our recent tax cuts for 99% of all Fijian taxpayers and increased investments in welfare programs, education and healthcare - these unionists seek to undermine our work.
As an example of our efforts, in 2012, a levy will placed on the top 1% of taxpayers to provide additional support for social welfare programs - such as the food voucher, free text book, and subsidized bus fare programmes - which will continue and expand. In education, we have increased our budget to expand access to the less fortunate, decrease the drop-out rate, improve facilities for all—especially in the outer islands and rural areas—and increase access to technology. In healthcare, we increased the budget to continue to dramatically improve the delivery of health services, while embarking on improvement of preventative healthcare - in particular, addressing the issue of non-communicable diseases - at all levels of society.
At the heart of the matter with the ACTU is Fiji’s Essential National Industries Decree, which was introduced earlier this year, and has resulted in the successful negotiation of fair and just collective agreements in the industries it affects: only government-owned or government-backed enterprises and the banks - those critical to the preservation of the Fijian economy. No other companies are affected. The Decree has for the first time empowered employers and workers to negotiate terms and conditions of employment, without any interference from disengaged trade unionists - who have over the years enjoyed privileged positions at the expense of the diligent workers, ordinary Fijians and the modernisation of the Fijian economy. Indeed, no agreement arrived under the Decree has been forced upon any employer or worker by the government. Further, more than 70 unions with tens of thousands of members operate completely free.
Yet, this handful of professional unionists is threatened because we have removed their ability to literally shut down Fiji’s entire economy, and exposed the fact that their archaic methods are no longer relevant in a modern economy - all while empowering Fijian workers to effectively redress grievances themselves. In response, the ACTU has conducted a publicity campaign that reaches the highest levels of the Australian government to humiliate Fijians and to wantonly destroy the heart of our small economy.
We need positive and productive relations with our neighbors, but we also need a balanced and sustainable economy - one that allows us to weather global economic fluctuations, which in recent years have greatly affected countries include small ones like ours. Through all of this, the people of our countries have a warm relationship with each other. We seek only to continually improve ties with the people and governments of Australia and New Zealand - who are not only our neighbors but make up a part of our family. Fiji welcomes everyone to visit our country - to enjoy our pristine environment, unique culture, and experience our world-renowned Fijian hospitality - to better understand the numerous reforms and positive initiatives we have been implementing. But to those who wish “hardship” on Fijians to achieve their own selfish ends, or the interests of their mates, we ask you reconsider your intentions.
* Published by the Daily Telegraph. My thanks to FijiToday for my copy.
Comment. (1) The A-G is incorrect in saying 99% of taxpayers will receive income tax cuts. The figure is between 20-30%. (2) His statement that the ACTU "group’s stated agenda [is] to damage the livelihoods of ordinary Fijians" is inaccurate and misleading. (3) I still consider the Essential National Industries Decree (that caused the union reactions) was unnecessary, and to refer to the "methods" of trade unions as "archaic methods [that] are no longer relevant in a modern economy" is either incredibly naive or ill intended. Far from helping workers, such a view plays straight into the hands of unscrupulous employers. I'll accept I'm wrong on this when employers take the initiative by offering their employees increases in wages commensurate with increases in profits. (4) He is, however, correct in saying the ACTU had already made its mind up, and he rightly questions the motives of some Fiji trade union leaders. The trip would have helped anti-government elements while doing nothing for Fiji workers.