14 Sep 2006

Shock in Fiji at plans to exempt garment makers from new maternity leave provisions

3:55 pm on 14 September 2006

The Fiji parliamentary committee which scrutinized the new Employment Relations Bill has caused outrage by recommending that the garment industry be exempt from paying its workers the full 84 days maternity leave.

It followed a submission from the garment industry that it was already struggling and could not afford to pay full maternity leave.

Nearly 90% of the remaining 9,000 workers in the garment industry are women.

The chairman of the parliamentary committee, government MP Konisi Yabaki, said a study had found that maternity leave provisions would raise the cost of productivity by 30 to 40%.

The exemption has drawn strong criticism from the Fiji Human Rights Commission which says the constitution provides for freedom from unfair discrimination.

The director of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, Shamima Ali, says it is a sad day for Fiji when legislators start to marginalise the most vulnerable in society.

Ms Ali says 11 years ago Fiji had ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women which obliges the government to provide appropriate maternity leave conditions.

She says the garment industry was built on the backs of women who work for minimal wages, yet employers are worried about paying a little extra for maternity leave.