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Fiji crisis impacts on economy

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SUVA: Fiji's political crisis has begun to bite deeply into the economy as the Commonwealth partially suspended the Pacific country until democracy and the rule of law is restored.

An emergency meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in London has decided to send a high level mission immediately to Fiji and Solomon Islands to urge a return to the rule of law in both countries.

Pacnews reported that the meeting stopped short of a full suspension of Fiji, instead suspending the country from its councils and sending a delegation, including Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer to Fiji at the weekend.

Today's Fiji news media were full of news reports about the dire economic impact from the hostage crisis as a string of companies and industries reported layoffs and wage cuts.

The Fiji Sugar Corporation laid off more than 200 workers in the town of Labasa on the northern island of Vanua Levu with the Fiji Sun quoting sources predicting that a further 3000 workers risked losing their jobs if the crisis worsened.

The paper estimated that between 10,000 workers could eventually lose their jobs with an impact on up to 50,000 people.

"It is happening! The repercussions of an attempted civil takeover by George Speight and his men," said an editorial in the Fiji Sun, which is also reported to have laid off workers, including journalists.

"With the warning by the European Union still fresh, with regards to a cutback on sugar exports from Fiji in the event that any of Mr Speight's men are included in an interim government, the scenario is not good.

"The onus is on the decision makers of our country, whoever they are, to come up with an early solution.

"A solution that will be both workable and practical.

"A solution that will be good for the country as a whole," said the Fiji Sun.

"If not then a frightening 10,000 workers are going to be directly affected and maybe another 50,000 people could be affected.

"These include those who depend on these workers' economic power for their life and industry.

"These are the workers' family, the shops he buys from, the market vendors he patronises, the school his children attend and those other groups and institutions and people he supports.

"So the effect is much more frightening than what George Speight and his supporters have failed to comprehend.

"We plead for a quick solution now before the worst happens."

The general manager of Labasa mill, Alipate Radrodro, confirmed the Fiji Sugar Corporation layoffs.

He said 40 per cent of the workers were skilled, including tradesmen and clerks, while 60 per cent were unskilled.

An official of the Fiji Sugar Clerks and Supervisors Association told the newspaper: "It is expected that another 3000 workers will be laid off from the four sugar mills if the crisis is prolonged."

In other industries:

* About 2000 workers in the garment industry have lost their jobs. And an estimated 5000 out of the total industry of 20,000 workers could follow.

* A "domino effect" could hit the bus industry, the Housing Authority and major stores with a significant hire-purchase business.

"Subsequently, the end result could be devastating," warned the Fiji Sun.

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