FIJI GARMENT INDUSTRY NOT PLEASED WITH GOVERNMENT’S STAND ON EXPATRIATES

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 20, 1999 - PACNEWS)---A garment industry leader in Fiji says the local Government is unfairly targeting the industry for recruiting what he describes as "highly-skilled," expatriate workers.

President of the Fiji Textile, Clothing and Footwear Council, Mark Halabe, said criticisms about the recruitment of foreign workers does not build confidence in the industry.

The Fiji garment industry employs hundreds of workers, mainly from China and the Philippines.

The new Government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has said there is no need for the industry to employ so many expatriate workers and has called on garment manufacturers to train locals to take over the positions held by expatriates

Halabe, owner of Mark One Apparel, one of the largest garment factories in the country, said the Government should instead recognize the contribution made by the industry to Fiji’s economy.

"We have grown so quickly that we have not been able to train enough skilled laborers to maintain the growth of the garment industry," Halabe said.

"Out of the 18,000 workers, we believe there is about 800 expatriate Chinese and Filipino workers in the country who are on three year work permits. These skilled operators bring skills that we don’t have, and they do train the locals to build up their skill levels. The volume of (foreign) workers we have is minimal compared to the total employment in the industry," Halabe said.

The issue of expatriate workers came to light after the Government rejected the application for a work permit for Fiji Television’s temporary chief executive, Kenneth Clark, a New Zealand national.

The rejection said the television company had not complied with an undertaking to train locals for the position.

Chaudhry accused the company of reneging on its commitment to appoint a local chief executive.

Chaudhry said the board wrote to the Government twice in the last two years to say three locals were being trained for the post.

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