Fairtrade Concerned About Workers' Rights in Fiji Sugar Mills
Edited 4 October, 2013
Since 2011 Fairtrade International has been proud to work with approximately 13,000 Fijian sugar cane farmers and their families, organised in certified groups in Labasa, Lautoka, Rarawai & Penang. The choice consumers and businesses make to buy Fairtrade enables investment of significant amounts of Fairtrade Premium by Fijian farmers directly into their local communities and the organizations of farmers, which has already improved production and efficiency.
The livelihoods of thousands of Fijian farmers and their families have been improved with this support through Fairtrade. Although improving the lives of farmers and their communities is our primary objective in Fiji, we have, along with our partners, expressed concern over basic rights of workers in the Fijian sugar mills.
In September 2012, Fairtrade International issued a public statement (PDF) together with international trade union organizations in which we called for collective bargaining rights to be upheld, along with previously negotiated workers’ rights. Furthermore, we expressed concern over the maltreatment of trade unionists and called for the lifting of restrictions imposed on trade union rights in the mills. Since these restrictions were imposed, mill workers have been unable to negotiate for wage increases. In July/August 2013, the government granted a 5.3 percent wage increase and resumed payment of overtime wages for Fiji mill workers. While we recognize this action, it still falls well below the increase that unions had requested to bring wages in line with current costs of living.
In August 2013, Fairtrade sent a letter to the Fiji government stating our regret that trade union rights had not been reinstated and wage bargaining had not been resumed.
We urge the Fiji government to uphold the standards set by the International Labour Organisation including freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. We also ask that the Fiji government and Fiji Sugar Corporation, as important stakeholders in the supply chain with a direct influence on the on-going success of Fairtrade Fijian sugar, endeavour to resolve the labour dispute at the sugar mills through a process of negotiation and mediation with elected trade union representatives. We join our voices with many who urge that through reinstatement of basic rights for workers and collective bargaining, this long-standing matter in the Fiji sugar industry should be resolved.