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Fiji Times October 27, 1999

Every worker has the right to join a trade union.

That's part of being a democracy.

Workers are allowed to be represented by an organization that protects their rights.

Because the workers' organization comprises most members of a particular workforce it gives the common person a strong voice.

This allows the workers a collective voice against injustices which are real or perceived.

And it guarantees that the employer will listen to that voice because it is recognized as the representative of the staff.

It is not easy for a worker to stand alone in a fight for decent conditions or in the face of redundancies.

One staff member cannot hope to achieve better conditions when he faces the collective might of an industry.

Trade unions have, over the years, fought many battles against the public and private sector employers.

Without union intervention many employees, among them teachers and nurses, would be in a far worse condition of employment than they are today.

Farmers, workers in the sugar industry and the telecommunications sector can also be thankful for the role trade unions have played to provide them with better terms and conditions.

Yesterday a major breakthrough was made in the garment industry when Mark One Apparel opened its shop to the Factory Workers Union.

As company director Mark Halabe said, his workers have a constitutional right to join the union.

This enlightened view, however, has not always been shared by others in the industry over the years.

For a long time garment workers slaved under atrocious conditions on minimal wages while their employers enjoyed the profits.

Because of this Fiji was labeled as a country where cheap labor was plentiful.

Women, the main players in the industry, suffered.

Union intervention has led to better conditions for the women.

Happy workers make a better workplace and this should lead to higher productivity and profits.

But some garment factories continue to shut out unions.

The move by Mark One Apparel yesterday stands as a beacon to all garment factory owners.

It is time to put an end to the sweatshops for which the industry is rightly or wrongly notorious worldwide.

The workers should be allowed to join unions.

It is their right.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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