Garment Industry Cries Over Minimum Wages Again
We are again hearing the cries of the Textiles, Clothing and Footwear industry moaning about the increase in minimum wage. This has been the cry of the garment manufacturers for decades. Their only mission is to keep wages at its lowest to maximize profits. We often hear that they are struggling to make money, yet I see at a personal level, they seem to be doing extremely well. This is somewhat confusing. Yet these same employers are very willing to make huge political donations come elections but won’t use the same money to reward workers. We have seen that in the last two elections.
We have for decades heard that an increase in minimum wage would mean loss in jobs. There is no evidence of that neither here in Fiji nor in any other country. We are also unaware that employers employ workers for the love of providing employment. Workers are hired according to the needs of employers. There is constantly the talk of being competitive, we say with who? Do we want to introduce standards that are prevalent in countries like Bangladesh and other countries where the industry exists as an informal industry?
The FTUC supports job creation but not jobs that pay poverty wage and forces a race to the bottom for all other workers in Fiji. It is time that the Garment industry is held to be accountable and transparent. If it pleads to be unable to pay decent wage, it must be prepared to open its book for inspection. Garments produced in Fiji and exported are sold at exorbitant prices abroad. This is no secret. It is time for a thorough review of the industry as whole and the work practices that are prevalent in the industry.
The exploitation of workers in the industry has for far too long been allowed. The Ministry of Labour has failed miserably to enforce labour laws and conduct effective inspections over the years. We have heard many great speeches from Government Ministers about women’s rights, yet none have had the courage to do anything about the inhumane treatment of women in the garment industry. They are made to work like slaves for every minute of their working day, forever trying to meet their hourly targets. They are being yelled at, constantly being watched, some even when they go to the restrooms. They are locked into the factory and not allowed out for the entire day. The OHS laws and Regulations don’t seem to apply to this industry for the same reasons why Government Politicians turn a blind eye to the dehumanizing conditions that workers work in. Fear and intimidation are norm for workers and they dare not speak for fear of being terminated.
It is time for the industry to open up and behave responsibly, and not profit from the exploitation of workers. If the Garment Industry wants to be in business, they must comply with the norms that all other employers comply with. We cannot have a special set of laws for the garment industry. The FTUC calls on the Textile, Clothing & Footwear Council to behave responsibly. Government has committed to decent work and core Labour Standards, and it is time we see that in the garment and textile industry.