FIJI GARMENT WORKERS LIVING BELOW POVERTY LEVEL

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 29, 1999 - PACNEWS)---A prominent social worker in Fiji claims garment workers in the country are being underpaid for their work, contributing to increasing poverty

Father Kevin Barr has just released a report which criticized the garment industry for exploiting workers and raking up huge profits from their labor.

"These poor garment workers, who work 45 hours a week, only get a minimum salary of US$ 23. This amount is so small and totally inadequate," said Father Barr

The Fiji Garment Industry's President, Mark Halabe, denied the claims, saying garment workers enjoy better working conditions than their counterparts in Southeast Asia.

"Asian workers only get a fifth of what our people get. They get superannuation deductions, a healthy work environment and get extras on holidays and time-off," said Halabe.

However, Halabe admitted garments made cheaply in Fiji sell overseas for big bucks; a US$ 5 garment is sold in the Australian market for US$ 50.

He said this was because of the costs attached to it after it goes through the manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer.

There currently are 17,000 people, mostly women, employed in the garment industry. The Government recently announced wage increases for the industry but Father Barr said this was not enough to provide for the basic needs of workers’ families. Most of these workers earn below US$ 56 a week, which has been identified as the minimum wage for those living in urban areas.

FIJI UNIONS BACK PRIEST OVER GARMENT INDUSTRY

SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 30, 1999 - Daily Post/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---The Fiji Trades Union Congress yesterday came out in support of a Catholic priest on the state of garment workers in the country, the Daily Post reports.

Father Kevin Barr highlighted the plight of garment industry workers in Fiji.

Congress Secretary-General Pratap Chand said that while the Ministry of Labor has approved a wage increase for garment workers, it has not paid them.

"The increases are merely a pittance. A wage of $45 to $60 a week is well below the poverty line," Mr. Chand said.

Mr. Chand said the assertion by the president of the garment industry, Mark Halabe, that working conditions of garment workers is better than most Southeast Asian countries is mischievous "for he does not state that the money they get has far greater purchasing power than ours.

"More so, the Fiji workers have achieved a certain standard of living and I hope that Halabe is not suggesting that the people of Fiji further lower their standard of living.

"Anyway, what commercial reality is Halabe talking about? The reality as we know it is that most manufacturers are living in luxury when their workers live in abject poverty.

"There is no fair distribution of the efforts of workers.

"The commercial reality argument has long been used to camouflage the reality of the situation," Mr. Chand said.

"We note that government has gazetted the increase in wages for garment and retail workers. Will these be backdated from the time this decision was taken or will these workers will be deprived of the full benefits of this change?"

Title -- 2018 ECONOMY: Fiji unions back priest over garment industry Date -- 30 March 1999 Byline -- None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Daily Post (Fiji), 30/3/99 Copyright -- Daily Post Status -- Unabridged

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