By MAIKELI SERU
The Attorney-General last night accused trade unionists here of being behind a new international campaign to hurt the country’s important tourism industry and those depending on it for a living.
The just-launched campaign driven by Australia and New Zealand union groups seeks to persuade visitors not to come to Fiji.
Mr Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, speaking also as Tourism Minister, said: “We are 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.”
The new campaign has been launched by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and the International Trade Union Confederation. The international group’s general secretary is former Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow, who campaigned against Fiji.
The unionists are orchestrating their campaign through a just-launched website http://www.destinationfiji.org. By last night it had already been highlighted in some New Zealand news media.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said this is another attempt, with the help of some Fijians, to discredit Government, and hurt the livelihoods of people of this country.
Whilst local trade union comment could not immediately be obtained, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said:
“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 three union groups have joined forces with a pro-union website Equal Times in the campaign to discourage visitors from coming here.
In supporting the campaign, Peter Conway, Secretary of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, said: “The South Pacific nation might have beautiful clear water, sandy beaches and smiling faces, but behind that lies an uglier side to the country.
“Sixty per cent of people earning a wage are living below the poverty line and workers have been stripped of their human rights.”
Mr Conway said the aim of the campaign is to inform tourists so that when they decide on a holiday destination they take into account what he called unfair processes underway in advance of the election next year.
Mr Conway said that 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.”
In response Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said: “Anyone who examines the situation in Fiji closely and honestly will find that the ground realities are different to what is being portrayed.
“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.