THE State is confident of successfully defending itself against a petition by a union, which has asked the US to punish Fiji for its labour reforms.
Industry and Trade permanent secretary Shaheen Ali held a press conference yesterday and raised the gravity of the issue to the estimated 75,000 livelihoods that would be affected if the petition is successful.
The Fiji Trades Union Congress had filed a petition in December asking the US to impose sanctions on Fiji because of various reasons, which included the introduction of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) and the Media Decree.
Mr Ali said the country had moved on. One of the allegations of the union is that Fiji failed to adhere to some core International Labour Organisation principles, which were the right to form a union, collective bargaining and to conduct a strike. Mr Ali said our laws did not prevent these rights but were directed at union leaders who were not part of any union but were enjoying the perks and benefits.
"The union wants to stop Fiji from benefitting from the US Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Scheme, which since 1976 has given certain Fijian exporters the great economic advantage of duty free entry into the United States," Mr Ali said.
A total of 39 companies are exporting to the US. The total value of these exports are $101 million.
One of these companies is the Pacific Fishing Company Limited (PAFCO), which the economic livelihood of the Ovalau depends on.
"Fijian companies and firms in the fisheries, agriculture, garments and mineral water sector will lose their businesses and these includes small and medium enterprises that export niche products to the US," Mr Ali said.
Directly, at least 15,000 jobs would be affected and based on the assumption of five persons in a family, Mr Ali said at least 75,000 livelihoods could be affected.
"Impact will be felt at grass roots level as most of the works (more than 50 per cent) in these factories are women and are the sole bread winners in their family.
"Ironically, these union leaders are harming ordinary Fijian workers, whose rights they claim to champion.
"We have been willing to work in partnership with workers' representatives and in turn some of them are willing to work with us. But we cannot work with union leaders whose actions seriously damage the Fijian economy and destroy the jobs of ordinary people and affect the livelihoods of the people.
"The interests of ordinary workers must not be sacrificed as these misguided individuals struggle for power and the spoils of office," Mr Ali said.
A government delegation would be attending the public hearing in the US on October 2 to defend the state. Mr Ali said he had already met with the US ambassador, Frankie Reed who has assured of a transparent hearing.