Peter Conway, You've Got it Wrong!
|Peter Conway, Secretary 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 www.destinationfiji.org. 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.
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