Peter Conway, You've Got it Wrong!

Peter Conway, Secretary NZCTU
This article looks at what some  overseas unions are saying about Fiji; what the A-G has to say in reply, and what I say about  incorrect claims by Peter Conway, the national secretary of the NZCTU.

As the Fiji Ministry of Labour commences its first national minimum wage baseline survey which will determine new minimum hourly rates and conditions of employment for all economic sectors, the NZ Council of Trade Unions has launched another attack on the country

They are supporting a campaign "to raise awareness among potential tourists of the reality of life in Fiji", says NZCTU secretary Peter Conway, who went on to say, "Sixty percent of people earning a wage are living below the poverty line and workers have been stripped of their human rights... Fiji is a military dictatorship and far from the paradise portrayed in tourism brochures, "says National Secretary Peter Conway

The new campaign is jointly co-ordinated by the ACTU, the International Trade Union Confederation, the NZCTU and Equal Times. The campaign website is  Conway hopes the campaign will inform people when they are deciding on a tourist destination. If they decide on Fiji, he hopes they will talk to local people to find out "what really is going on."

The campaign also calls on Foreign Affairs Ministers in Australia and New Zealand to demand that Fiji brings its practices into line with international human rights standards, repeals draconian measures that have stripped workers of their fundamental rights, allows the United Nations in to monitor the situation, and commits to genuine transparent and democratic processes in the lead up to the 2014 election.

Conroy is a well-meaning labourite, a prominent member of Oxfam, but we knows little to nothing about Fiji, and how Fiji compares with other Third World countries.  His appeal to the Australian and NZ government for action also smacks of neo-colonialism,  What give them a special right to dictate to Fiji, especially when they make no complaints about human rights issues in China and South-East Asia?  They've long ago lost their opportunity to influence events in Fiji by  giving no credit to the Bainimarama's reforms, and giving too much credibility to the claims of his so-called pro-democracy opponents.

The Attorney-General and Tourism Minister Aiyaz Sayed=Khaiyum  replied to Conway, not by attacking him or the overseas unions, but  by accusing  trade unionists in Fiji of being behind a new international campaign to hurt the country’s important tourism industry and those depending on it for a living.  He is "confident that our visitors will see this propaganda for what it is – a crude attempt to punish Fiji for its reforms, which are designed, amongst other things, to erode the ability of a handful of elites to use their power to damage the Fijian economy and work against the Fijian people.

“This same hegemony of four or five unionists time and time again continues to demonstrate a disdain for ordinary Fijians by wilfully misrepresenting the situation in Fiji. “Overall, we believe the impact of this petition will be minimal. Our visitors – like the Fijian employees – are smart enough to see through it.”

“For trade union leaders to encourage a tourism boycott – an industry that supports the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Fijian families – is the height of selfishness and irresponsibility. A boycott would not only threaten the livelihoods of those directly employed by the tourism industry and their families, but also the livelihoods of all those who play a supporting role in the industry: the taxi drivers, the airline and airport employees, women and men who produce handicrafts and the list goes on.

“The Bainimarama Government has also provided an unprecedented level of assistance to the tourism industry, which has attracted investment, created jobs and established many opportunities for training and up-skilling at such places as the Fiji National University.

 “The Bainimarama Government-led reforms at Air Pacific has created a remarkable turn-around from a more than $90 million annual loss, to a $16 million profit last year. All of these reforms including employer/employee reforms have been achieved without a single job loss. And now, all employees are included in the airline’s first ever profit-sharing scheme. “The draft Fijian constitution further strengthens the rights of ordinary Fijians by including in its bill of rights the right to a just minimum wage, the right to economic participation, as well as a wide range of socio-economic rights. Fiji’s previous constitutions never included such rights, nor for that does matter do Australia’s.

“Lastly but perhaps most importantly all Fijians need to consider, that given these are the same trade unionists who have said that they will form a political party to participate in the 2014 parliamentary elections. Is this really the sort of leaders Fiji wants?,” he said.

My Comments

Peter Conway urges tourists to talk to local people to find out what is really going on.  But to my knowledge, he has not been to Fiji for at least six years and his only source of local information is from the Fiji unionists he is supporting — who the A-G thinks are behind this latest move by the ANZ unionists.

More importantly, where does he get information to support his claim that "sixty percent of of people earning a wage are living below the poverty line."?  It is the highest figure ever mentioned.  Some have talked of 35%, others of 45-50% but these lower guesstimates are about "people" — not "people earning a wage."

"People" is a far more inclusive term.  It includes the employed and unemployed, children, old people and rural people in the subsistence sector. If we multiply Conway's 60% with the Ministry of Labour's 171,865 workers in Fiji  and then multiple each worker by three (workers plus their dependents), the result is 309,357 people, or about 35% of the estimated population.  A far cry from Conway's inflated 60%.

Even more importantly, where does he expect Austrlalian and NZ tourists to go for a cheap holiday, if it is not Fiji?Bali in Indonesia perhaps or Phuket in Thailand?  I thought I'd check on how well workers in these countries compare with Fiji.

Assuming a 45-hour week in all cases, and converting Indonesian Rupiah and Thai Baht into Fiji dollars, I came up with these figures:

The national minimum weekly wage in Thailand is F$98.78; in Indonesia F$89.63 and —wait for it— in Fiji the minimum weekly wage for a labourer or waiter in a licensed hotel is F$125.30, a pitiful wage by ANZ standards but more than Thailand or Indonesia. For consistency, shouldn't Mr Conway be also urging a ANZ boycott Indonesia and Thailand.  (The value of the Fiji dollar is 66 cents NZ and 55 cents Australian.)

I have no way of comparing human rights abuses between the three countries, but I'm reasonably confident worker employment rights in Fiji would compare favourably.  Our hotel labourer, for example, is protected by the  Government Wage Regulation Order of October 2012 that guarantees him his minimum wage,  1½ times overtime pay (and double on Sunday and national holidays)  and $7 for a meal if he works overtime.  He has guaranteed annual holidays, a night shift allowance of 20 cents an hour, up to ten days sick leave a year; and three days bereavement leave a year. And all premises are checked for safety and health.

Peter Conway sympathies with working people are unquestionable but in complex situations such as Fiji, it is not enough. He must check his sources, question the motivation of his Fiji associates, and consider the political alternatives.  The record of the Bainimarama government is not perfect (I have repeatedly criticized its Essential Industries Decree) but neither is that of the Fiji trade unionists (who two years ago appealed to overseas unionists to call for boycotts on the Fiji tourism industry).

To call, even obliquely, for a boycott on Fiji's major employer, the  tourism industry, will have little effect on government policies and actions (except to make them even less sympathetic to the Fiji trade unionists!) but, if it were successful, it would have a massive effect  on tens of thousands of ordinary Fijians.  Surely, this is not what he and his colleagues want.

-- Crosbie Walsh


Anonymous said…
Peter Conway should look at cleaning up his own backyard in New Zealand. His comment on Fiji being far from paradise being portrayed on brochures reeks of hypocrisy (read article below). It is beyond me how Australia and NZ ride on their high horse and try to tell other countries what to do.
Anonymous said…
Do you think you could get your Washington paymasters to provide shorter, clearer copy? This thing was all over the place.
Tourism operator said…
I don't disagree with your comments Croz. Union leaders in Fiji has always been the worst type and rarely ever about helping real workers.

For balance let me also challange what the AG says about his government. The single biggest negative impact on tourism was the 2006 Military coup carried out by the current government. Its impact (as previous coups) was devistating and unlike previous coups it took much longer to spring back. Also in its first two years and particulary with the current PMs hand chosen finance minister Mahen and labour supporters they where clearly out to get the Tourism industry. Money was diverted away from tourism and Air Pacifics woes where under the current governmnets watch.

Many of us in the industry worked hard to re-educate the PM and later the AG on the importance of the industry. Immediately post coup we raised private money to promote Fiji. Lately yes the government has been supportive but lets remember their own acts brought the industry to its knees not previous governments.

Tourism Operator
Destroy human rights abusing dictatorships said…
Can you get the teenage spin doctors to script your rubbish better? You are all over the place like a dictator's pet dog. What are you going to tell us next? The junta torture video was faked? The dictator Bainimarama didn't actually support his cowardly thugs who committed torture?
Anonymous said…
I disagree. I believe the 2000 coup had a far greater initial impact. In 1999 Fiji was really starting to take off. The 2000 coup changed that completely. The industry only picked up again because of the Bali bombings. Many Australians changed from Bali to Fiji because of that.

You must also remember that there were devastation floods in the years after the 2006 coup, so it is difficult to determine how the industry was affected longer term by the 2006 coup. Also much of the slow return must be put back onto the Aust/NZ governments for their campain.

All said and done do you really that the tourist industry would have prospered with the nationalist undercurrent and so many indo-fijians leaving the country? Further trouble was always going to happen. Better to get it over with and start now with a clean and fair slate.
Bahut Julum said…
Too general negative comment, nothing on specifics. Typical of posting by ex-gravy train passengers.
Anonymous said…
In addition to your points, people need not forget the ripple effects of world crisis. Look at Greece and other european countries that rely a lot on their tourism industry. Whilst the coup had a direct effect, there are other external factors that need to be considered as well. Enough said.
Anonymous said…
Lets see what the ADB (Croz they have a large office in Fiji and normally know what they are talking about):

.......The downturn in the economy has contributed to growing poverty in rural areas. Fiji’s poverty strategy is aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but progress has been unsatisfactory. Poverty incidence was estimated at 35.2% of the population in 2008−2009, significantly higher than Fiji’s MDG target of 14.7% by 2015. Moreover, nearly half of the population could be considered to be poor or near-poor, having incomes close to the poverty line. In addition to the need to boost incomes, other poverty reduction challenges include high dropout rates in primary and secondary schools, low participation rates in post-secondary education, a rise in noncommunicable diseases, gaps in access to clean drinking water and modern sanitation facilities, large and rapidly growing numbers of families residing in urban squatter settlements, and low coverage of social safety net programs.
The government is well aware of the need for Fiji to break away from the downward spiral of low economic growth, political instability, and mounting poverty. The Strategic Framework for Change and the Roadmap for Democracy and Sustainable Development, 2009–2014, contain the steps proposed by the government in order to achieve its vision of a sustainable democracy, good governance, socioeconomic development, and national unity. Progress has been made in implementing certain elements of the roadmap, but while many new decrees have been issued, actual implementation has lagged behind.
Rape of the nation said…
This illegal regime and its corrupted judiciary has raped the nation. It is about time the treasonous cowards faced the justice they deserve for the damage they have done to Fiji and particularly for destroying the reputation of the once proud Fiji military. The world is getting sick of these criminals trying to blame everyone else for the rape of this beautiful nation and its people.
Anonymous said…
Blaah Blaah blaah holy hell mate put some substance into your post.
Lay the blame squarely where it belongs! said…
The damage done to businesses and to investment generally in Fiji is entirely measurable. In 2000, it was bad and in 2006 for many SMEs it was considerably worse. But it has become incrementally loss-making due to endless decrees and inflationary Wage Orders placed upon prevailing inflationary conditions in the economy overall. It is quite incorrect to state that the Global Dull Economy is responsible for all this. It has not helped but essentially our woes are of our own making. Investment will not arrive from overseas with impediments embedded arbitrarily in draconian decrees. Why should they? Plenty of other more deserving locales and opportunities for hard-earned dollars.
Anonymous said…
Draconian? They are not draconian enough if trade unions can do all this to Fijian workers who already struggle to feed their families.Please pass more to put these guys in the dock.Self serving, selfish and fat cat unionists. At times like this I almost admire Margaret Thatcher.
The irony of the 'Iron Lady' said…
@ Anonymous ultimo:

"Almost admire...."? What a soggy, half-baked approach! Margaret Thatcher saved her country and won a War. Through sheer guts and determination. Never failing to keep her promises to "See off all the 'Wets', the 'Unprincipled' and the 'Liars'. She was a template, an icon, a 'brand' even as Mikhail Gorbachev himself remarked when stating that the sobriquet 'Iron Lady' was a Russian one and well-deserved. Almost a term of endearment. Yet the Unions which were bringing the UK down were in receipt of Soviet funding. More is the irony!
What a good show! said…
"Margaret Thatcher grows with the turning of the pages. She summons up extraordinary personal resources not just to break with the old order but to put a new one in its place. None of this was easy. The entire Thatcherite project was frequently in danger of faltering, as unemployment soared, cities burned and the ditherers conspired. The situation became so dire in 1981 that Mrs Thatcher's advisers sent her a memo castigating her management style and warning that she would soon be joining Edward Heath on the backbenches.

How did she manage all this? Mr Moore (Charles Moore) shows that it took more than ideological certainty and personal stubborness. Mrs Thatcher had a gift for seeing when the time was ripe and when it was not. She had a natural bond with what Richard Nixon called the silent majority. She had an actor's gift for putting on a good show. Mrs Thatcher's opponents repeatedly played into her hands: Heath, the titular leader of the Tory ditherers, known as the "wets", was a repulsive figure who grew more repulsive with age ("some men are bitches", Mrs Thatcher noted).

Margaret Thatcher - The Authorised Biography Volume 1 : From Grantham to the Falklands by Charles Moore, Knopf: 896 pages $35. Allen Lane GBP 30. Reviewed in The Economist May 4 - 10 2013
A Muddying of the Waters said…
"A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind (note the term!) it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the excercise of judgement acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office, so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?".

(The March of Folly - Barbara Tuchman 1984)

Interesting that Tuchman was contemporaneous with Thatcher when she wrote this outstanding historical analysis of governments in action from Troy to Vietnam. Has anything changed? Two insightful women, one wielding the power of the highest, elected office in the Land. Both exercising judgement based on wisdom. Not through terror, not through imposition or coercion or by the inducement of a servile silence. Both possessed of insight and vision. Why, we may ask, have those who were recipients of this work been so disinclined to pay it heed? We know who they are. We know who the donors were. A muddying of the waters is evidenced.
Anonymous said…
The donor community in Fiji is engaged in its own March of Folly. It is driven by the aspirations of friends who lost much in 2006 yet were conspicouous in their silence in 1987 and 2000.
The donor community no matter of which complexion or persuasion need to be put on notice: WE ARE NOT FOR SALE! The rest of Fiji should be put on notice also: our women and our young girls are not commodities to be trafficked - they are to be nurtured, educated and taught to be proud of being female. Some are our grand-daughters. The vultures within and without Fiji (they are of many nationalities) must be shown that we mean what we say. Take your evil trade elsewhere to jurisdictions where you will be shown no mercy. In the meantime, within our own Borders we must look SMART, act SMART and punish those who prey on our own citizens. Permitting Perjury in our courts is not a way of achieving this end. Perjury is pernicious and redolent of a culture of trafficking.

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