Last Updated: Monday, 28 July 2014, 16:37 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Fiji

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Fiji, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4c2c.html [accessed 29 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

Fiji's system of parliamentary democracy, inherited when the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1970, was interrupted in 1987 with the installation of a military regime following two bloodless coups. Fiji returned to elected government in 1992. That government fell in November 1993 over failure to pass a budget for 1994. A new general election is scheduled for February 1994.

Ethnicity plays a major role in Fiji's politics, economy, and society. Fiji's multiracial society is about evenly divided between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians. Indo-Fijians dominate the economy and professions and are well represented in the lower and middle levels of the public service, while ethnic Fijians make up the bulk of the nation's military forces and control the political structures.

The small but professional Fiji Military Forces (FMF) and a separate police force report to and are under the control of the Minister for Home Affairs and, ultimately, the President. In 1990 the Government also established the Fiji Intelligence Service, with limited powers to search people and property, tap telephones, and open mail.

Sugar and tourism constitute the mainstays of the economy, accounting for almost half of the nation's foreign exchange earnings. The economy has recovered from the effects of a severe decline following the 1987 coups. The Government is promoting light manufacturing for export, notably the garment industry, to diversify the economy and lessen its dependence on sugar and tourism.

The principal human rights problem in 1993 remained the constitutionally imposed and ethnically based political discrimination. Labor rights disputes stemming from 1991 legislation greatly ameliorated during the year. Other human rights problems include inhibitions on freedom of the press, continued delays in bringing criminal and civil cases to trial, and violence and discrimination against women.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no deaths of persons in official custody from other than natural causes nor deaths by police or military application of force in Fiji in 1993. There were no reports of political killings by the Government or any political group.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances in 1993.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Police sometimes physically abuse detainees; the offending officers have been punished in some instances, although punishments have been light. The Internal Affairs Unit continues to expedite the investigation of such cases and to ensure that any complaints against the police are properly investigated. During 1992, 27 officers were charged with a variety of offenses. At year's end, the 15 cases which had been dealt with resulted in 4 convictions; 12 cases were pending. Internal police investigation statistics from 1993 were not available for inclusion in this report. Corporal punishment is permitted by law as a penalty for criminal acts; strokes of the cane are administered under medical supervision, although this provision is rarely invoked.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

In Fiji the Law of Arrest and Detention broadly follows the British model. Generally, a person may be arrested only if there is a reasonable belief that a breach of the criminal law has been or is about to be committed. Arrested persons must be brought before a court without "undue delay." This is taken to mean within 24 hours, with 48 hours as the exception (such as when an arrest is made over the weekend). Rules governing detention are designed to ensure fair questioning of suspects. Defendants have the right to a judicial review of the grounds for arrest; in urgent cases, application may be made to a judge at any time, whether he is sitting or not. Incommunicado and arbitrary detention are illegal, and none occurred in 1993.

Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial structure was reorganized under the 1990 Constitution, but remains similar to the British system. The principal courts in Fiji are the Magistrate Courts, High Court, and the Court of Appeal. The 1990 Constitution also provided for a Supreme Court as the court of final appeal, but to date it has not been established. The Court of Appeal is slowly reducing the enormous backlog of cases caused by the Government's failure to appoint a president for the court until December 1991 and the court's consequent inability to convene before that time.

There are no special courts; military courts try only members of the armed forces. Magistrate Courts continue to try the large majority of cases. In addition to its jurisdiction in serious civil and criminal cases, the High Court is granted special interest jurisdiction on behalf of the public and is empowered to review alleged violations of individual rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

The judiciary is independent under the 1990 Constitution and in practice. There have been no credible reports in 1993 that a court was influenced by the executive – except by legal arguments in court. An example of the courts' independence was the decision in the Jim Ah Koy case (see Section 5.a.), in which the government lost a hotly debated ethnic registration decision.

Rights of due process are similar to those found under English common law. The right to public trial is guaranteed, and defendants have the right to counsel. Trials in the High Court provide for the presence of assessors (akin to a jury); cases in the Magistrate Court do not. In litigation involving lesser complaints, a public legal advisor assists indigents in domestic or family law cases. The right of appeal exists but is hampered by continuing delays in the appeals process. Normal bail procedures mean that most defendants do not experience any pretrial detention.

There are no political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

In general, privacy of the home is respected. However, the Fiji Intelligence Service has powers to search people and property, open mail, and tap telephones within specific operational guidelines outlined in the government decree which created it. There is no evidence that these powers are being abused. Surveillance of persons believed to represent a security threat is carried out to some degree. Some political opponents of the Government believe their telephones and mail are monitored, but concrete evidence is lacking.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech is generally respected. Political figures and private citizens can and do speak out against the Government. Although the Public Order Act and other acts prohibit any actions which are likely to incite racial antagonism, no arrests for making any kind of public statement were reported or believed to have occurred in 1993.

The Government does have broad discretionary powers to impose restrictions on press freedom, and it has sometimes done so. For example, in 1993 the Government banned television camera coverage of the controversial Kermode Commission of Inquiry into the wrongful arrest suit and out-of-court settlement in the so-called Stephens Affair. The investigation led to the resignation of the Attorney General and implicated the Prime Minister and his close advisors. The Government also temporarily banned television from using actual footage of parliamentary proceedings.

Legislation pertaining to the press is contained in the Newspaper Registration Act (NRA) and the Press Correction Act (PCA). Under the NRA, all newspapers which are sold and published in Fiji must be registered with the Government before they can begin publishing. The PCA gives the Minister of Information sole discretionary power to order a newspaper to publish a "correcting statement" if, in his opinion, a false or distorted article has been published. Should the newspaper refuse to publish the Minister's correction, it can be taken to court and, if found guilty, fined $700 (individual persons convicted under the Act may be fined $150 and/or imprisoned for 6 months). The PCA allows the Government to arrest anyone who publishes "malicious" material. This includes any false news which could create or foster public alarm or result in the "detriment of the public."

Privately owned broadcast and print media operate without prior censorship but with considerable self-censorship. Newspapers occasionally print editorials critical of the Government but rarely do investigative reporting. Statements about the political situation by opposition figures and foreign governments are widely reported. The letters columns of the two daily newspapers also frequently carry political statements from members of the deposed government and other persons and from groups which are highly critical of the Government, its programs, and the Constitution. Criticism – albeit muted – of the once sacrosanct traditional chiefly system is beginning to appear. However, the Government still views comments about individual chiefs with disfavor.

An active local organization, the Fiji Islands Media Association (FIMA), is an affiliate of the regional Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), which held its 1993 convention in Fiji for the first time since the 1987 coups. Both FIMA and PINA are pressing for better training and establishment of codes of ethics for journalists. Concerned over possible moves by the Government to set up a tribunal for hearing public complaints against the media, FIMA is working toward a self-regulatory press and media council instead.

The advent of television has raised the specter of censorship, openly advocated by the head of the powerful Methodist church in Fiji and others. Moves to replace the temporary television service with a permanent arrangement have triggered a serious look at television content regulation, heretofore nonexistent.

While academic freedom is respected, the Government has effectively deterred university employees from participation in Fijian domestic politics. Since 1991 staff members of the University of the South Pacific must take leave if they run for public office and must resign from their posts if elected. Senior staff may not hold office in political parties.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Assembly for political purposes is allowed but subject to restriction in the interest of public order. Public gatherings require permission from the Government's district officers, who may obtain prior assessment and advice from the police on the anticipated crowd size and the ability of the police to ensure public safety. Permits for large outdoor political meetings or demonstrations are not always granted.

There was no government interference with political activities during the October 1993 municipal elections. Permits were routinely issued for rallies organized by political parties, religious groups, and groups opposed to the Government. All opposition party headquarters remain open. Political organizations are allowed to operate and issue public statements. They did so repeatedly and openly throughout 1993.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution and honored in practice. The preamble to the Constitution declares the importance of Christianity to the Fijian people but guarantees protection for all religions. As part of the ongoing constitutional review process, several parliamentarians and Methodist church leaders have called for Fiji's status as a "Christian nation" to be enshrined in the body of the Constitution.

No significant restrictions affect foreign clergy and missionary activity or other typical activities of religious organizations.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no restrictions on freedom of movement within the country or abroad. Occasional detentions at the airport occur, but the courts do not hesitate to order redress where this is warranted. Fijian citizens are free to emigrate. According to the best available estimates, over 35,000 have done so since May 1987.

Most of the emigrants are Indo-Fijians, many of them professionals, but some ethnic Fijians and others also have left. Several thousand have claimed refugee status, especially when applying for admission to Canada and after arrival in the United States as tourists, but neither the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees nor any government has recognized those claims. In 1992 and 1993, as the economic downturn in Australia and New Zealand continued and Fiji moved toward restoration of accountable government, several hundred well-educated Indo-Fijians who had emigrated in the postcoup period returned to Fiji. There are no refugees in Fiji, and no forced resettlement programs.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The right of citizens to change their government is abridged by the provision of the 1990 Constitution ensuring political dominance by ethnic Fijians, primarily through race-based voting rolls and representation in Parliament. Moreover, the Constitution was promulgated by a nonelected interim government and has not been approved by a national referendum.

The Constitution guarantees ethnic Fijians dominance of the Government by providing them with 37 of 70 seats in the elected lower house of Parliament. Indo-Fijians are accorded 27 seats, Rotumans (culturally distinct Polynesians) 1, and all other races 5. In the Senate (an appointed body with essentially review powers and the right to veto legislation), ethnic Fijians hold 24 of the 34 seats, Rotumans 1, and the other groups 9. Other constitutional features designed to ensure ethnic Fijian dominance include a requirement that the Prime Minister be an ethnic Fijian and selection procedures which virtually ensure that the President will also be an ethnic Fijian.

The Constitution also incorporates a bill of rights, providing for freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and other internationally accepted rights and freedoms. The section setting forth these rights provides that they may not be altered by Parliament except with the approval of two-thirds of the lower house. However, elsewhere in the Constitution, Parliament is also given the authority to pass special acts to deal with certain specified emergency situations, notwithstanding human rights guarantees found in other sections of that document. The Attorney General's office has taken the view that any legislation introduced under the emergency powers provision would require two-thirds approval by the lower house, but critics of the Constitution maintain that only a simple majority would be needed. Critics claim that indigenous Fijians in the lower house thus would be able, solely on the strength of their own numbers, to abrogate constitutional human rights protection.

The President is selected by the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), a traditional Fijian leadership body. He appoints the Fijian members of the Senate on the advice of the GCC and the provincial councils, and on his own judgment with regard to the nine members of other races. He appoints the one Rotuman Senator on the advice of the Rotuman Council. The Prime Minister, who along with the Cabinet holds most of the executive authority, is chosen by the President from among the Fijian members of the lower house on the basis of his ability to command majority support within that body.

Elections are held by secret ballot, with voting only by communal constituencies. The 1990 Constitution calls for elections every 5 years, but the Government may call an election at any time. The Constitution (Article 161) provides for a formal review of its provisions within 7 years of its promulgation (1997) and every 10 years thereafter.

In 1991 Major General Sitiveni Rabuka, the officer who led the 1987 coups, resigned as commander of the Fiji Military Forces (FMF) and entered the free and fair May 1992 elections (in which nearly 80 percent of Fiji's registered voters – both ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians – participated). He was overwhelmingly elected to Parliament by his local constituency. The President selected him to be Prime Minister after Rabuka demonstrated that he commanded majority support in the House of Representatives. When his 1994 budget was rejected by Parliament in November 1993, Rabuka asked the Acting President to dissolve that body in accordance with the Constitution. Another general election is slated for February 1994. The 1993 municipal elections were also free and fair. Two of Fiji's major parties are predominantly Indo-Fijian. These parties, the National Federation Party (NFP) and the Fiji Labour Party (FLP), have pledged to continue their opposition of the 1990 Constitution in the Parliament.

The mandated constitutional review, expected to take until 1997 to complete, got under way in 1992 with the creation of an expanded subcabinet committee led by Deputy Prime Minister Bole. The committee includes representatives of the opposition NFP. It formulated terms of reference, adopted by Parliament in September, for an independent review commission, including impartial foreign advisors. The FLP has refused to participate in the subcabinet committee, insisting on rapid convening of the promised parliamentary select committee whose proceedings would be more open and accountable to the Parliament. The FLP walked out of Parliament in June in protest, inter alia, of government footdragging in the review process, saying creation of the parliamentary select committee could bring them back. The FLP returned to the September parliamentary session to participate in the debate over the motion setting terms of reference for the parliamentary constitutional review commission.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no local groups in Fiji which focus solely on human rights matters, but the women's rights movement, the labor movement, and various political groups are involved in promoting a number of human rights causes. There are also several small foreign-based organizations which concentrate on human rights causes in Fiji. These include the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji (with offices in New Zealand and Australia) and two United Kingdom-based groups, the International Fiji Movement and the Movement for Democracy in Fiji.

The Government strongly opposes what it considers external interference in its domestic affairs and has invoked this principle in the past to inhibit certain investigations of the political and human rights situation by external organizations. However, in 1993 foreign representatives were allowed to attend both the NFP Annual General Meeting (July) and the Fiji Law Society Convention (August) where they roundly criticized the 1990 Constitution. Their opinions were fully and prominently covered in the press.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Women

Although the new Constitution also provides specific affirmative action provisions to improve the conditions of those disadvantaged as a result of race, sex, place of origin, political opinion, color, religion, or creed, the Government practices sexual discrimination in the recognition of spousal and offspring rights. For example, spouses of Fiji citizen women are not automatically granted residence, whereas spouses of Fiji citizen males are. Offspring of female ethnic Fijians married to nonethnic Fijians are not entitled to registry in the document governing who shares in income from communal ownership of native lands and who has the right to vote as an ethnic Fijian and hold ethnic Fijian designated seats in Parliament. Men, however, pass on ethnic Fijian status to their offspring regardless of the wife's ethnic background. In a high-profile 1992 court challenge to the registration restrictions, the son of a Chinese father and ethnic Fijian mother won his appeal to be registered as an ethnic Fijian. The long-term effects of the decision on registration restrictions and thus a woman's right to pass on her ethnic status were not clear by year's end.

Women in both the Fijian and Indian communities have functioned primarily in traditional roles, although some women rise to high places in the public service, politics, and business. Women can also attain high status in Fiji's traditional chiefly system. The former Prime Minister's wife is, in her own right, Fiji's second highest ranking traditional chief. In general, women in the Fijian community are more likely to rise to prominence in their own right than are women in the Indian community. Women have full rights of property ownership and inheritance, and a number have become successful entrepreneurs. Women are generally paid less than men, a discrepancy that is especially notable in the garment industry. Garment workers, most of whom are female, are subject to a special minimum wage considerably lower than that in other sectors.

There is a small but active women's rights movement, which has pressed for more serious treatment of rape in the courts. The crime tends to draw widely varying but usually short prison sentences (a few years). Within the same month, one case involving a 16-year-old victim resulted in a 6-year sentence and three strokes of the cane (allowed by law), while another convicted rapist was merely fined the equivalent of $200 and put on probation.

Domestic violence is also a problem in Fiji and is a second major focus of the women's movement. The authorities are generally reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence unless it is necessary to save the woman's life. Few cases result in prosecution, as the victim generally does not press charges. The Government has not been active in dealing with domestic violence.

Suva, the capital, and the regional center of Ba have privately funded women's crisis centers which offer counseling and assistance to women in cases of rape, domestic violence, and other problems, such as child support payments. There is, overall, a growing awareness of women's issues, with Fiji playing host to several women's rights' conferences and workshops during the year.

Children

Changes centered around the undermining of the traditional village and extended family based society – and great improvements in record keeping – have revealed a major problem of child abuse in Fiji. Reported cases of abuse or neglect have jumped from 365 in 1990 to 619 by August of 1993. The Fijian legal system is inadequate to protect the rights of children, with children's evidence being inadmissible unless corroborated by an adult. The Government created a child welfare committee this year to address these problems, but it is likely to remain reluctant to become involved in family matters.

Children have not had an exalted place in Fiji, particularly in ethnic Fijian families. Children eat only after first fathers and then mothers have eaten their fill. Education is not mandatory in Fiji; most primary and secondary schools are managed and funded by the local community, social organizations, or church groups. Currently, the Government provides only some 5 percent of the schools – although it does support the salaries of the majority of teachers even in private schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The stated purpose of the 1987 military coups was to ensure the political supremacy of the indigenous Fijian people and to protect their traditional way of life and communal control of land. To this end a number of measures have been taken that favor the Fijian community over the other ethnic groups. The most obvious are the apportionment of seats in Parliament to guarantee a preponderance of ethnic Fijians and constitutional provisions ensuring selection of an ethnic Fijian President and Prime Minister. The Government is also committed to raising the proportion of ethnic Fijians and Rotumans in the public service to 50 percent or more at all levels. This is reflected in current promotion and hiring policies in the public service favoring ethnic Fijians. It has resulted in some Indo-Fijians complaining of a "glass ceiling" whereby, despite their experience and higher educational achievements, they are not promoted beyond middle management.

Control of land is a highly sensitive issue in Fiji. About 83 percent of the land is held communally by indigenous Fijians. Most cash crop farmers are Indo-Fijians, who lease their land from the Fijian landowners through the Native Lands Trust Board. The present land ownership arrangements were instituted by the British to protect the interests of the indigenous Fijians. Freehold land title is not an indigenous concept; lands owned currently by the State (8 percent) and by individuals (9 percent) were transferred from customary owners during the colonial period. Many Indo-Fijians, particularly farmers, believe that the absence of secure land tenure discriminates against them. Between 1997 and 2000, the majority of the current leases will expire. A review of the current land tenure/leasing arrangements is under way.

Indo-Fijians are subject to occasional harassment and crime based on race, which is compounded by inadequate police protection. There have been no credible allegations of government involvement in such incidents, and the police have investigated and, where possible, arrested lawbreakers.

People with Disabilities

There is no legal discrimination against physically disabled persons in employment, education, and provision of other state services in Fiji. Limited special education facilities are provided in the capital. The Fiji Disabled People's Association, a small voluntary organization based in Suva, is pushing for better health care and special education for the disabled. There are no mandated provisions of accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers' rights to form and join unions, elect their own representatives, publicize their views on labor matters, and determine their own policies are protected by law and observed in practice. However, the law permits restrictions to be applied on government employees in the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health, and to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons. About 19 percent of the labor force is unionized.

All unions must register with, but are not controlled by, the Government. The only national labor federation is the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC), which was closely associated with the opposition FLP until mid-1992. The FTUC is free to associate internationally and does so. The labor movement is led largely by Indo-Fijians. Persons with close ties to the Government have started rival unions primarily for ethnic Fijians; these unions are more amenable to political cooperation with the Government.

Following several years in which labor-government relations were marred by confrontational tactics, the 1992 return to elected government marked the beginning of a more cooperative relationship.

In November 1991, the interim government had created considerable antagonism when it passed, as part of its economic package, certain labor "reforms" (Decrees 42, 43, and 44) which unilaterally altered the role of the labor unions and regulated internal union matters. The Fiji trade unions rejected the decrees and sought support from the international labor movement to convince the Government to rescind the decrees. The Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in November 1992 recommended specific changes to the Fijian "reforms" to restore the rights Fijian workers and their unions had enjoyed previously.

The Rabuka Government undertook to find ways to reestablish a dialog with the unions. In September 1992, the new Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations took concrete steps to address the unions' concerns, including formal recognition of the FTUC and a public pledge to review the interim Government's "reforms" and a further pledge to eliminate those aspects of the decrees considered objectionable by labor.

In December 1992, the automatic dues checkoff system through which nearly all unions received their operating funds was reinstated (satisfying a pressing demand of the FTUC). In July 1993, the Cabinet agreed in principle to remove the most offensive of the 1991 labor "reforms" which had been the subject of the ILO recommendations and the GSP review process, but implementing legislation had not made its way through the system by year's end. One 1991 regulation, that prohibited union leaders from holding multiple union offices, has been eliminated by the July 1993 Cabinet decisions. This action canceled a court case pending against former FTUC union head and Indo-Fijian political leader, Mahendra Chaudhry.

Strikes are legal in Fiji. However, the 1991 right-to-strike decrees are still in effect. Strikes are banned in connection with union recognition disputes. Once a recognized union votes to strike, that vote is valid for 6 weeks. If the union has not gone out on strike before the 6 week deadline, another vote must be taken. There is no current limit on the length of a strike. The Government is involved in certifying union balloting, which can be an elaborate process given the distance between some of the island locations in the country. The largest strike (involving some 500 workers) of 1993 took place at the Pafco fish-canning facility in Levuka over working conditions and leadership. Local chiefs, the Ministry of Labor, and the company negotiated a settlement after 10 days. The most noteworthy strike was the September 6 walkout by dock workers in Suva, in protest of the Port Authority's contracting out of stevedoring at the Lautoka Wharf. Once the authority chairman was replaced by the Government, work resumed. The strike by the Fiji Mine Workers' Union (FMWU) at the Vatukoula gold mine which began in 1991 continued. A rival union, the Mine Workers' Council (MWC), was organized and recognized by both the new management and the Government when it garnered membership from more than half the work force. After considerable legal action and appeals by the FMWU and mine management, the courts decided that the MWC was the valid representative of the workers. The FTUC has decried the MWC as an "in-house" union; fired FMWU members continued to occupy mine company housing.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law recognizes the right to organize and bargain collectively. Employers are required to recognize a union if more than half the employees in a workplace have joined it. Recognition is determined by union membership numbers rather than by an election. The Government has the power to order recalcitrant employers to recognize unions and has done so. Key sectors of the economy, including sugar and tourism, are heavily organized. Following the May 1992 elections, the Government lifted wage guidelines and unrestricted collective bargaining on wages is now the norm.

Wage negotiations are conducted on an individual company or enterprise basis rather than on an industrywide basis. A Government proposal to introduce such industry-wide negotiations has been opposed by employers and unions. Union leaders fear that straight market-based wage bargaining would open unacceptably large wage gaps between skilled and unskilled workers. Until 1984 a tripartite forum of employers, unions, and government oversaw labor negotiations. In that year, however, labor withdrew from the forum and it was abolished. The body was restored in June 1993 as the Economic Strategies Committee, but the FTUC has refused to participate.

Antiunion discrimination is specifically prohibited by Fijian law. In practice, the unions are generally successful in preventing discrimination against workers for union activities, but the law does not mandate that such workers be reinstated.

Fiji's export processing zones are subject to the same laws as the rest of the country, and many of their firms have unions which have negotiated collective bargaining agreements.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution specifically prohibits forced labor, and there is no indication that it is practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Children underage 12 may not be employed in any capacity. "Children" (under age 15) and "young persons" (ages 15 to 17) may not be employed in industry or work with machinery. Enforcement by the Ministry of Labour and Industrial Relations generally is effective, except in the case of family members working on family farms or businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

No national minimum wage has been established. Certain sectors have minimum wages set by the Ministry for Labour and Industrial Relations. For example, garment workers' hourly wages are at $0.49 ($F0.72) for learners and $0.62 ($F0.94) for all others. In the tourism sector, the minimum hourly wage starts at $0.91 ($F1.37). Office workers may earn as much as $1.12 ($F1.68) as a starting hourly salary. Skilled heavy machinery operators earn in the range of over $1.49 ($F2.21) per hour. These minimum wages are effectively enforced and generally support a barely adequate standard of living in all sectors except the garment industry, in which the starting wage is based on the assumption that workers are young adults or married women living at home and not supporting a household.

Fiji has no regulation specifying maximum hours of work for adult males. Women are prohibited from night work in factories (other than overtime work in the garment industry) and underground work in mines. Certain industries, notably transportation and shipping, have problems with excessive hours of work. Indo-Fijians, who generally require a cash income to survive, are more vulnerable to pressure to work long hours than ethnic Fijians. Many ethnic Fijians can and do return to a noncash economy way of life in their villages rather than work what they consider to be excessive hours.

Fiji has workplace safety regulations, a Workmen's Compensation Act, and an Accident Compensation Plan. Awards for workers injured on the job are set by a tribunal. Government enforcement of safety standards under the direction of the Labour Ministry suffers from a lack of trained enforcement personnel, but the unions do a reasonable job of monitoring safety standards in organized workplaces. The ILO's November 1992 recommendations cited the need to improve working conditions. Problems are particularly widespread in the garment industry.

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