|Issue No 63
|21 July 2000
Downer's Fiji Muddle Deepens
The Howard Government has been accused of granting trade concessions to Fiji at the same time as they are considering imposing sanctions over the overthrow of democratically elected leader Mahendra Chaudhury.
Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union state secretary Barry Tubner says that the Howard Government has agreed to unilaterally extend the SPARTECA Agreement, providing trade privileges to the textile and clothing companies operating in the Fijian Free Trade Zones.
"Even though the agreement has expired and the Australian Government is in no way legally required to observe the terms of the agreement, the Howard Government has decided to reward the forces of dictatorship by agreeing to prolong the trade benefits to textile bosses under the agreement," Tubner says.
SPARTECA was signed 13 years ago to assist Pacific Islands increased their standard of living specifically by allowing those nations to import textiles and garments into Australia without attracting tariffs.
Along with the establishment of a Free Trade Zone, the agreement has allowed Fiji to create a strong textile industry employing an estimated 20,000 on the back of a workforce paid just $1.20 per hour - half the minimum award rate in the rest of the nation.
Chaudhury's promise to remove the Free Trade Zone and his reticence in extending SPARTECA are seen as one of the factors that turned powerful business interests against his government.
Tubner is particularly critical of Australian companies operating in Fiji saying they had been vocal opponents of sanctions, but big supporters of the Howard government's 'kids gloves' approach to the crisis.
"Cheap clothing does not go hand in hand with democracy," Tubner says, "it just goes hand in hand with exploitation."
The Labor Council has called on the Howard Government to immediately cease its extension of the SPARTECA Agreement until both of the following conditions are met:
- Democracy is restored in Fiji; and
- In accordance with earlier commitments of the democratically elected Chaudhury Government, the wages and conditions of Fijian workers currently exploited in the Fijian 'Free Trade Zones' are brought into line with the legal minimum wages and conditions of all other Fijian workers.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005