Hundreds of garment workers stand to lose their jobs as the political crisis in Fiji continues.

A backlog of work due to non-attendance during the height of the most recent attempted coup has led to a lack of orders and confidence from overseas buyers. And according to recent reports, factories are now at risk of closing down or reducing the number of staff as overseas customers cancel existing business. The knock-on implications will be particularly widespread because these employees are usually women from lower social backgrounds whose wages sustain the whole family.

The industry, which employs about 20,000 people, sprang up soon after the 1987 coups and was poised to take over as the leading foreign exchange earner and employer in the country in the next few years. But as Mark Halabe of Mark One Apparel in Suva told the local television station, Fiji One: "We can expect a complete shutdown of the industry in a very short period of time."

Another garment factory owner, Mr Ramesh Solanki of United Apparel Ltd, said customers have lost confidence after not receiving their deliveries on time. He added that the company had been told that if this is not resolved quickly, they will move away from Fiji to other countries like Indonesia and China. "We will end up losing business."

He said the only solution would be to reduce the workforce. His 1400 workers have been told of reduced hours this week. At least 700 jobs are set to be lost if the situation continues.

This dilemma is also faced by Ranjit Garments Limited where managing director Ranjit Solanki fears he will have to lay off close to 500 employees ― a third of the workforce ― within the next two weeks if the crisis in the country is not solved soon. If the situation worsens, he will close down one of the four factories owned by the company in Nausori, Rakiraki and Suva. Collectively, they have a capacity of about 75,000 fashion, denim jeans and workwear and garments a week, 95 per cent of which is exported to Australia.

"I haven't decided yet which one I'll close down but I will definitely be closing one," Mr Solanki said. Since May 19, the company hasn't received orders from overseas customers and the supply of raw materials to the factories has ceased. "All of our raw materials are imported and there has
been no supply so far. Currently we are using what we have from our last supply and shipping services have also become irregular."

Ranjit Solanki, who has been in the industry for 16 years, also blames actions by the Fiji Trade Unions Congress for making things worse for most garment operators. At present, employees at Ranjit Garments and Mark One Apparel are the only members of the Union, and frustrated workers are said to be questioning why hasn't done anything to assist them.