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Action to save jobs in Fiji’s key industry

Media Release
Friday 6 August, 2004

Oxfam calls for swift action to save jobs in Fiji’s key industry

International aid agency Oxfam has today called for the New Zealand government to take urgent action to keep Fiji’s fragile garment industry alive in the face of the imminent loss of crucial trade preference arrangements with Australia.

The call comes in conjunction with the release of Oxfam’s report on the industry, which shows that even though garment industry jobs are poorly paid, they make a vital contribution to the economic well-being and social stability of the island nation.

“Immediate steps must be taken to avert the collapse of this industry, whose wages are a lifeline for about one in five urban Fijians,” said Barry Coates, Oxfam’s Executive Director, who is in Apia this week for meetings around the 35th annual Pacific Islands Forum.

“Given the political will, New Zealand can help avert disaster for this vital industry,” said Coates. He pointed to the newly-formed industry development group Textiles New Zealand as an example of what could be done to assist Fiji.

With help from $2.3m in government funding, trade unions and industry leaders have formed Textiles NZ to find ways to help the New Zealand textiles industry survive in the face of global competition. A similar body could be created for Fiji, with funding and technical assistance from New Zealand and Australia.

Coates also referred to recommendations contained in a consultant’s report recently completed for the governments of Fiji and Australia. Critically, the report recommends that Australia grant Fiji an 11-year extension of its S-TCF preference scheme and also make significant improvements to the scheme to make it more effective in generating business between Australia and Fiji.

Coates commented that New Zealand should look at developing a similar scheme to help keep Fiji’s industry alive while more sustainable solutions were developed.
Oxfam is launching its report simultaneously in New Zealand, Fiji and Australia as well as during the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Samoa.


Editor’s notes

1. The end-date for the S-TCF scheme with Australia is December 2004.

2. The Fijian garment industry was completed for Oxfam by development academic, Dr Donovan Storey. The study sets out the history and current status of the industry and warns of its fragility as preferences erode or come to an end.

3. Key findings in the study include:
- Wages from the industry are important to around 80,000 people, mostly living in peri-urban settlements. This is around 20 percent of Fiji’s urban population;
- Significant job losses in the industry would be likely to lead to a social and economic crisis, with flow-on implications for social stability;
- Wages are low and conditions are unsatisfactory, but are generally better than in most developing countries with large-scale garment industries;
- The industry currently has few value-added features, making it highly vulnerable to price competition from counties with even lower wages and worse conditions;
- The industry is at risk of collapse because of the termination or erosion of preference schemes, particularly the Australian extension of SPARTECA (the S-TCF Scheme) and the Multi-Fibre Agreement;
- The industry, the Fijian government, NGOs, Unions and foreign donor governments should work together to develop solutions;
- Australia and New Zealand should use their trade and aid policies to assist the industry to enhance workers’ lives and reduce poverty

© Scoop Media

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