Fiji hits out at union campaign targeting tourists

Fiji's military government on Tuesday condemned a trade union publicity campaign aimed at international tourists that seeks to debunk the idea that the South Pacific nation is a tropical paradise.

The campaign, launched this week with the website www.destinationfiji.org, accuses Fijian authorities of trampling on workers' rights and abusing the human rights of dissidents.

It was set up by the International Trade Union Confederation with cooperation from unions in Australia and New Zealand, the source of most international visitors to Fiji, which relies on tourism for export earnings.

"Thought Fiji was paradise? Think again," it says. "Behind the island's beauty lies a much uglier reality.

"Since seizing control of the country in 2006, the regime has stripped workers of their wages and conditions, free speech has been stifled ... those speaking out against the regime are threatened and assaulted."

Tourism Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum accused organisers of trying to undermine the country's largest industry and placing in jeopardy the jobs of workers that unions were supposed to be protecting.

"This is a campaign of a handful of Fijian trade unionists with the assistance of their Australian and New Zealand mates to undermine the Fijian economy, create job loss and punish the livelihoods of ordinary Fijian workers," he told news website Fijilive.

"All in an attempt to bolster their own position."

Fiji Trade Union Congress general secretary Felix Anthony said the campaign did not seek to discourage tourists but aimed to educate them about the reality of what was happening on the ground away from their luxury resorts.

Anthony said the government, which has pledged to hold elections next year for the first time since a 2006 coup, still ruled by decree and had curtailed the rights of unionists.

"(Sayed-Khaiyum) has no one else to blame when the world is critical of the abuse of power by the regime in imposing these draconian decrees," he told AFP.

"He cannot place the blame on trade unions when he is the one who has embarked on union bashing."

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