Workers in Fiji are targeting tourists with a campaign that aims to debunk the idea that the country is a tropical paradise.
The website www.destinationfiji.org accuses authorities on the island of violating the human rights of Fijian dissidents.
“About the campaign thought Fiji was paradise? Think again,” it says. “Since a military dictatorship led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power of the South Pacific island nation in 2006, human and workers’ rights have been under attack.
“Over 60 per cent of Fijian wage earners now live below the poverty line, many workers earn less than $3 an hour, and those speaking out against the regime are threatened and assaulted.”
It was set up by the International Trade Union Confederation, with cooperation from unions in Australia and New Zealand, the largest source of foreign visitors to the island.
The website has been condemned by Fiji’s military government, with Tourism Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum accusing the union of undermining the country’s most valuable industry, and therefore putting at risk the jobs of workers it is 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 the news website Fijilive. “All in an attempt to bolster their own position.”
Felix Anthony, Fiji Trade Union Congress general secretary, argued that the campaign did not seek to discourage tourists from visiting but aimed to educate them about what was happening away from their luxury holiday resorts.
He added that the government, which has promised to hold elections next year for the first time since the coup, still ruled by decree and had curtailed the rights of union members.
The row bears similarities to the situation in the Maldives – another destination known as a tropical holiday paradise, but where the treatment of dissidents has come under scrutiny.
In March a pamphlet entitled “Cloudy Side of Life” – a play on the Maldivian tourist board’s official slogan “Sunny Side of Life” – was handed out at a travel trade show in Berlin, drawing attention to police brutality and human rights abuses, allegedly sanctioned by the country’s current government.
“White sandy beaches, dancing palm trees and sparkling cocktails beckon the eager tourist to the Maldives,” it read. “However, a few miles away from your secluded resort island, the same government, backed by the same resort-owners who wave over the honeymooners to the sunny side of life, with their other hand, imposes great injustices, brutality, and human rights abuses on us, the citizens.”
A petition urging a tourist boycott of the Maldives, launched after a 15-year-old rape victim in the country was sentenced to 100 lashes for premarital sex, has so far received the backing of more than two million people.