DestinationFiji.org is not your average tourism website, though you might be confused at first glance. Its logo is emblazoned with palm trees and a setting sun, and the first picture that pops up shows an alluring boardwalk leading to a secluded white-sand beach.
That paradisiacal picture, however, soon fades into one of distraught workers and a gun-toting soldier, as the campaign’s message, “A vacation from workers’ rights,” flashes across the screen.
“Thought Fiji was paradise? Think again,” the website, which launched this week, warns. “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.”
Sponsored by Australia's and New Zealand’s Councils of Trade Unions, with help from international partners, the campaign warns that more than 60 percent of Fijian wage earners now live below the poverty line, while many earn less than $3 per hour. Moreover, it says the Fijian Constitution and Bill of Rights have been abrogated under the Bainimarama regime, and free speech stifled.
Destination Fiji takes direct aim at both Fiji’s image as an idyllic getaway and the 700,000 tourists -- many from Australia and New Zealand --who visit annually.
“While not advocating a boycott of tourism to Fiji, it urges consumers to look beyond the picturesque postcards to the reality for Fijian workers,” explained Amy Schwebel of Equal Times, one of the campaign sponsors. “The regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama has ruled by successive decrees that have stripped citizens of their voice, curtailed the media, restricted people’s movement, required permits for meetings of more than three people and enabled the military and police to detain people without charge for up to 14 days.”
The campaign, Schwebel said, invites people from around the world to send an email to their country’s foreign minister calling for Fiji to restore human rights and a true democracy. It will continue until a day of action by Australian unions on June 8, when the first scheduled flight of the new Fiji Airways (currently Air Pacific) takes off from Sydney.
“Australian and New Zealand tourists are the biggest visitors to Fiji each year, attracted by the sunny weather, pristine beaches and generous hospitality of the locals,” Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney said. “The new Fiji Airways will be trading on this image of a tropical paradise when it begins regular flights to and from Sydney next month, but people need to be aware that behind the picture postcard images, there is little sunshine for the ordinary Fijian worker.”
“We are not saying to people ‘don’t go to Fiji’,” she added. “But we are saying, if you do go, make sure you are aware of the real situation, and talk to the locals about what is really happening.”
Fiji’s attorney general and minister for tourism, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has accused the union-backed campaign of misleading the public and undermining the lives of the very people it’s trying to protect.
"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, all in an attempt to bolster their own position," he told local publication FijiLive.
He called trade unions encouraging what he said amounts to a boycott of such a crucial industry “the height of selfishness and irresponsibility.”
Felix Anthony, general secretary of the Fiji Trade Union Congress, countered that the campaign does not discourage tourists from visiting, but rather educates them on the issues lurking in the shadows far away from their holiday resorts.