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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 21, 1999 – PACNEWS)---A row has erupted over Australian trade union allegations that a Fiji company producing the Australian Olympic team’s uniforms is using slave labor.

The New South Wales Labour Council says that if the allegations are true, then the garments should be made in Australia.

Barry Tabner, council secretary, said, "The issue is that if these uniforms are manufactured in Fiji and Malaysia, then there are international standards that need to be adhered to."

"As a union," Tabner said, "what we are trying to put forward is that someone from the trade union movement should be invited into these factories to take an audit to see whether they are complying with International Labour Organization standards or the code of practice the Australian Olympic Committee signed on."

The code of practice covers such things as no bond labor, no discrimination of employment and freedom of association based on collective bargaining, Tabner said.

The Fiji garment manufacturer contracted to manufacture the Australian team uniforms has rejected the Australian trade union movement’s claims.

Mark Halabe of Mark One Apparel in Suva said the comment should be retracted.

"I think the New South Wales Labour Council is not SOCOG, the organizing committee of the Olympic Games, and I think it is a comment made out of place. I think they should realize that it is the Olympics also for the South Pacific and should stop upsetting the people that want to come and watch the Olympics.

"Even in Fiji. . . the High Commissioner of Australia announced, ‘We have won the bid, not just for Australia or Sydney, we’ve won it for you as well.’ He said during his speech that garments could possibly be made in Fiji. Now that’s happened and after we’ve won contracts to manufacture garments in Fiji, somebody is getting up and saying, ‘Why, it’s not fair. It should be made in Australia,’" a disappointed Halabe said.

"The factories here are world class. They are manufacturing in factories that anybody would be proud to own anywhere in the world. So he’s wrong by saying we have slave labor. But he’s right in saying that it’s cheap labor compared to Australia. What do you expect? We are third world country and our labor is cheaper than Australia’s," Halabe said.

Halabe said he welcomed an inspection of his factory by Australian authorities.

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