OVER 4000 villagers living in and around Tavua Town stand to be affected by the sudden closure of the FIJI Water factory at Yaqara yesterday.
Workers stood in shocked silence as the announcement was made just after midday.
Many openly wept as general manager Paul Davies informed the workers that due to the imposition of a 15 cents per litre tax, the decision was made by John Cochran, president and chief operations officer of FIJI Water, to shut the factory immediately. "We were told to remove only property that belonged to us.
"Anything that belonged to FIJI Water had to remain in the factory ù we had to remove identification cards, company phones and uniforms.
"We basically walked out with the clothes we had when we walked in yesterday morning," said Timoci Ravutuva, technical team leader at the factory.
The factory hand said workers were finding it hard to understand why they were out of work and many refused to speak to The Fiji Times team that visited the area. Speaking from Los Angeles, Mr Cochran said the decision to close the factory was because of what it cited was an "unfair tax" on the company.
"In Friday's budget, the Fiji Government announced that it will impose a 15-cent per litre tax on bottled water at locations where more than 3.5 million litres per month are extracted.
"FIJI Water, which currently pays one third of a cent per litre, is the only bottled water producer in Fiji affected by the increased tax; bottlers who extract less than this monthly limit will continue to pay about one tenth of a cent, or 10,000 per cent less tax than Fiji Water," he said.
Reacting to FIJI Water's statement yesterday, Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama said: "The Fiji Government remains firmly committed to both international and local investment in Fiji.
"However, if FIJI Water no longer wants to operate in Fiji, it must inform the Director of Lands and Yaqara Pastoral Company Limited from whom FIJI Water has leased lands."
He said if FIJI Water was no longer interested in Fiji, then the Government ù following the cancellation of leases ù "will call for international tenders from credible and reputable private sector companies to extract this valuable resource".
The Prime Minister said that "as usual FIJI Water has adopted tactics that demonstrate that FIJI Water does not care about Fiji or Fijians. They have made statements about supposed instability in Fiji and know it is not true, yet do so because they simply do not want to pay the new taxes."