1500 BC Fiji first settled by Melanesia islanders
1643 AD Captain Abel Janzsoon Tasman sailed through Fiji with first Europeans
1789Captain William Bligh landed in an open boat after mutiny on HMS Bounty
1860s Europeans establish cotton plantations, prompting widespread disputes with locals over land
1874 10 October - Under the Deed of Cession Fiji became a British colony under governor Sir Arthur Gordon who began the introduction of indentured Indian labour to work on sugar plantations and mills
1881 Rotuma annexed to the colony.
1920 Indenture system banned
1940-5 Occupied by Western ‘Allies
1943 Indians outnumber Fijians
1968 Race riots during by-elections
1970 10 October - 96th anniversary of cession, Fiji has nominal independence from UK as a dominion of the UK. Racial tension decreased under multiracial policies. First constitution made British sovereign head of state, represented by a governor general
1977 Racial unrest as Fijian nationalists campaign with the slogan ‘Fiji for the Fijians’
1987 April - Indian and Fijian dominated parties form coalition government with support from Fijian and Indian trade unions
1987 May - coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka deposes government, jails leaders
1987 September - Rabuka stages second coup and declares Fiji a republic. 1 October - Constitution suspended. Fiji left the Commonwealth
1990 July - revised constitution concentrated power in ethnic Fijian hands. Proposals to federate with New Zealand rejected
1997 New Constitution. Fiji readmitted to the Commonwealth
1998 Constitution revised to allow non-Fijians to positions of political and state power
1999 May - Mahendra Chaudhry elected as Fiji’s first ethnic Indian prime minister
2000 May - Leading armed thugs, George Speight kidnapped Chaudhry and legislators for 56 days, demanding the repeal of the 1998 constitution to exclude Indians from government
2001 August elections, criticised abroad, return Chaudhry to premiership
2002 February - Speight sentenced to death for treason, commuted to life imprisonment; it is believed he could be eligible for parole in 12 years
Once known as the Cannibal Islands, Fiji is situated in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean 2,000 kilometres or so north of New Zealand.
Fiji is a collection of 332 islands of which around 100 are inhabited.
Two mountainous islands of volcanic origin, Viti Levu (Great Fiji) and Vanua Levu, comprise about 85 percent of Fiji’s 18,376 square kilometres. Viti Levu accounts for over half of Fiji’s land area. Fiji’s capital, Suva, is on the south west coast of Viti Levu.
Fiji’s first inhabitants sailed from other parts of Melanesia over 3,500 years ago with food plants and seeds, pigs, and pottery known as Lapita ware. Those settlers are now known as Lapita people.
It is said that around 1000 AD cannibalism was common at a time of constant inter-island warring when Fijians lived in fortified villages ruled by polygamous hereditary chiefs.
Though first sighted by European explorers in the seventeenth century, the first comprehensive evaluation of the islands was conducted by a US expedition in 1840. Fiji was the centre for South Pacific trade during the nineteenth century.
Fiji became a British Crown Colony in 1874 during a period of civil unrest. The first colonial governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, introduced a policy of indentured labour, shipping in a mass of Indian migrants to work on cotton and sugar plantations. This policy has created serious political consequences and a cultural divide that still divides the population 200 years later; there is little inter-marriage between the Fijian and Indian communities.
The British system of indentured labour endured until it was outlawed in 1920, when Indians began to demand political rights as permanent citizens. Ethnic Indians outnumbered ethnic Fijians from 1943 until some time after two military coups in 1987. The census in 1997 showed Fijians in the majority. The vote was extended to all adults during the 1960s. Before this, it was restricted to Europeans and a few Indians, the ethnic Fijians being represented by chiefs.
Most ethnic Fijians are Christians, having been converted by European missionaries in early colonial years. Most Indians are Hindu though a few are Muslim. A minority Chinese group is largely Buddhist.
The state became an independent constitutional republic in 1970 with a Fijian prime minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara whose Alliance Party held power until 1987 when Fiji was rocked by two civil disturbances. The first was in May when a military coup was followed by ethnic clashes, and the second in September was also instigated by the military after which Fiji left the Commonwealth.
In 1990 a second constitution was introduced designed to withhold political power from the Indian population.
In 1993 Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was elected president by the exclusively ethnic Fijian Great Council of Chiefs.
Fiji was occupied by the Western Allies as a key supply station during World War II. A Fijian battalion took part in the struggles for the Solomon Islands, France, and Italy. But Indians refused to join up as they objected to worse wages and conditions than the Europeans. They also refused to sell their sugar for the low price offered, leading to enduring accusations of disloyalty.
The army was maintained after the war, but was long exclusively Fijian except for a few European officers. Ethnic Indians now make up less than one percent of military personnel.
Compensation is now demanded for nearly 300 Fijian soldiers and sailors who witnessed atmospheric nuclear tests at Christmas Island and Malden Island in the central Pacific in 1957-8. They charge that the UK military used them as experimental guinea pigs during nine nuclear tests. 44 years later, Fijian veterans are suffering health problems caused by deliberate exposure to radiation.
France donated substantial military aid in 1990, in preparation for resumed nuclear explosions in the Pacific in 1995. France’s renewed nuclear testing provoked intense opposition across the Pacific islands and revived a flagging anti-nuclear peace movement in Europe.
In 1997 the constitution was revised to remove institutional racism, allowing a non-Melanesian to become prime minister. Fiji rejoined the Commonwealth on 1 October 1997.
In 1998 the constitution was amended to extend non-racist political freedom to ethnic Indians who were thus permitted to hold senior state and government posts. It introduced a new voting system that guaranteed a multi-racial cabinet.
In May 1999 Mahendra Chaudhry of the Fiji Labour Party, was elected as Fiji’s first ethnic Indian prime minister, but one year afterwards, large demonstrations voiced ethnic Fijian opposition to ‘non-native’ dominance. On 19 May 2000 ethnic Fijian and failed businessman George Speight led an armed invasion of parliament taking Chaudhry and 30 MPs hostage. Speight revoked the presidency and the 1997 constitution.
Facing widespread condemnation under an international spotlight, Speight was arrested in July, charged with treason, and the hostages were released. On the day of the hostage taking,air flight bans were imposed by governments in Australia, New Zealand, UK, and USA, and a trade ban (mail, air and sea) was imposed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
On 29 June Fiji Trade Unions Congress (TUC) General Secretary, Felix Anthony, announced that the TUC had made a deal with the employers, who he said had agreed to reinstate all 6,068 workers laid off because of the trade bans.
However this deal was not honoured. In October the Secretary for Labour and Industrial Relations released figures showing that job losses since April 2000 totalled over 36,000.
Also on 29 June, the Maritime Union of Australia lifted its trade ban, warning that it could be reimposed if a solution to the crisis was not found in line with Fiji’s 1997 constitution.
Civil servants accepted a 12.5 percent pay cut on the 27 July 2000. Anthony declared 2 August a Day for Peace, Democracy, and Law and Order endorsed by Fiji’s civic groups (NGOs, church groups etc.) and more notably by private sector bosses, rare supporters of industrial action who refused to call the action ‘general strike’. Fiji’s Chamber of Commerce backed the action, saying it expected all businesses, schools, and government offices to remain closed.
Rebels briefly detained Anthony before the proposed day of action, and participation in the 2 August action was low profile in the capital Suva, though the Garment Manufacturers Association and Fiji Manufacturers Association supported the day and paid their workers. But in West Fiji (sugar and tourism area) no sugar mills rolled, and banks and other businesses were shut.
During the 56 day armed occupation of parliament, the Commander of Military Forces, Frank Bainimarama, declared martial law, dissolved parliament, and declared himself President.
Defying the constitution, an ethnic Fijian of the Fijian United Party, Laisenia Qarase, was installed as prime minister without an election. He, Chaudhry, and amazingly, Speight in jail, all stood at a tense election in August 2001. Speight’s trial was postponed until February 2002 specifically to allow him to compete in the general election under his new Conservative Alliance Party banner. In the hung parliament that resulted all three were elected MPs. Qarase was mysteriously sworn in as a prime minister. Ignoring the constitution he refused to talk to Chaudhry over the composition of the parliamentary cabinet, which had no Indian members.
However in November 2000 the High Court upheld the 1997 constitution, a decision that was supported on 1 March 2001 by the Court of Appeals which declared that government had not been dissolved nor the constitution cancelled. It reinstalled Qarase as Prime Minister
Speight won a seat in the 2001 General Election but was expelled from Parliament for failing to attend without permission from the Speaker, when he was in prison on Nukulau island awaiting sentence. After pleading guilty to treason he was sentenced to death, but with almost unhealthy haste the government intervened and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. In April 2002 Speight’s parliamentary seat was won by Samisoni Tikoinasau - Speight’s younger brother.
Ironically Tikoinasau said he would invoke the 1997 Constitution, which Speight tried to abolish during his reign, to pardon Speight.
On 15 Februrary 2002, Fiji’s Appeal Court, including judges from Australia and New Zealand, ruled that Qarase’s government was unconstitutional. The court said that Qarase clearly breached the 1997 constitution by excluding the ethnic-Indian dominated Labour Party from cabinet. The constitution rules that any party with over ten percent of parliamentary seats is guaranteed ministerial representation. The Indian dominated Labour Party won 27 of the 71 parliamentary seats, but were excluded from ministries by Qarase, who once described Fiji as a “divided and polarised” society adding that Western-style democracy does not suit Fiji.
At a meeting in early March 2002, Commonwealth leaders’ agenda was headed by moves to kick Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth accusing President Mugabe of electoral dirty tricks. UK prime minister Tony (Bomber) Blair was key instigator for the expulsion. However the wish of Blair and other ‘leaders’ of the Commonwealth to exclude Zimbabwe is in stark contrast to their silence about the moves of Fiji’s Prime Minister Qarase and self-styled President Bainimarama.
The election in 2001 leant Qarase a semblance of legitimacy, though it was widely criticised for its complex racist system of voting, undemocratic power wielded by the Great Council of Chiefs, lack of transparency in the formation of the government, and violation of the 1998 Constitution.
Australia and New Zealand were not party to the criticism as they immediately dropped sanctions, imposed due to the parliamentary siege and the resulting political shenanigans. Likewise, the Commonwealth lifted its suspension on Fiji.
The President is appointed for five years by a Great Council of Chiefs, the leaders of a chiefly system. A Presidential Council advises the President. The President appoints the Prime Minister, who appoints the Cabinet, which is composed of MPs and is responsible to Parliament Parliament has two houses (bicameral), the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Upper House or Senate has 32 seats: 14 appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs, nine appointed by the Prime Minister, eight by the leader of the opposition, and one appointed by the Council of Rotuma, an island around 400 miles north west of Suva.
The House of Representatives has 71 seats: 23 reserved for ethnic Fijians, 19 reserved for ethnic Indians, three reserved for other ethnic groups, one reserved for the Council of Rotuma, and 25 open seats. MPs serve for five years.
Judges are appointed by the president.
Economy at a glance
Exchange rate US$1.00 = F$2.23
GDP total US$1,758 million (1999)
GDP % industry 29 (1999)
GDP % farming 17.9 (1999)
GDP % services 53.1 (1999)
GDP: purchasing power parity* - $5.9 billion (1999 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: minus 8% (1999 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity* - $7,300 (1999 est.)
National budget US$520 million (1997)
Balance of trade 2000 minus F$512,730,000
2001 Jan - Sep minus F$467,531,000 Foreign debt US$193 million (1998)
Public debt F$1.424 billion (1998), about 44.5 % of GDP
Income tax threshold F$5,000
Resources Timber, fish, gold, copper, silver, possible oil
Industries Sugar, tourism, copra, gold, silver, clothes, timber, cottage industries
Exports Sugar, clothes, gold, fish, timber, coconut
Imports Machinery and transport equipment, petroleum, food, consumer goods, chemicals
Exports to Australia, UK, USA, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal
Imports from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, China, USA
* converts local prices into costs for goods in USA
Seventy percent of the population lives in the countryside, and the economy is still rooted in farming. There is steady migration to urban areas. Migrants often live in unhealthy conditions prompting the government to spend F$800,000 in 1998 to improve a “squatter settlement” on Howell Road near Suva. 144 homes were targeted for improvement here as part of the government’s policy on poverty. The appearance of ‘squats’ has led to social problems. Between 1986 and 1996, the urban drift officially rose by 31,400 women and 29,000 men, reflecting a growing proportion of women working in the garment industry.
Thirty percent of Fijians have no running water in their homes, and only 12 percent have sewage processing plants, double the six percent of 1980. Income tax is deducted at source. Families with a combined income of under F$5,000 pay no income tax. However indirect taxes have increased since the government introduced a ten percent Value Added Tax in 1992. Fiji has an adverse balance of payments; the economy is dominated by IMF policies. In 1998 exports were worth F$938.7 million against F$1,501.5 million for imports. The visible trade deficit fell by about F$1 million to F$561.9 million.
In 1998 the government estimates economic growth declined by 2.5 percent. In the year to December 1998, inflation was 8.1 percent. International trading agreements provide Fiji with access to markets in Australia, and New Zealand.
Agriculture contributes 18 percent to GDP, but employs 50 percent of labour. Industry contributes 29 percent to GDP. Manufacturing, particularly textiles, supplies about ten percent of GDP with less than ten percent of the workforce. Services make up 53 percent of GDP.
There are six commercial banks: Westpac, ANZ Banking, Colonial National Bank, Bank of Hawaii, Bank of Baroda, and Habib Bank. The Reserve Bank of Fiji is responsible for state economic policy. Fiji joined the WTO in 1996 and has since increased manufacturing capacity. Gold, silver, and limestone are mined, gold being Fiji’s third foreign currency earner.
Mining is a growing industrial sector, its contribution to GDP expanded from 2.3 percent in 1991 to over three percent in 1996. Mining earned 11.4 percent of foreign exchange in 1996. The Vatukoula gold mine in northern Viti Levu is Fiji’s biggest private employer with over 1,600 of Fiji’s 2,000 mining workers.
Planting large scale pine forests began in the 1960s, allowing a timber industry to develop for domestic consumption and exports. Electricity
Fiji’s ample rainfall and mountains are suited to hydroelectricity generation. A dam on Viti Levu provides three quarters of Fiji’s electricity, but other forms of energy are still major imports along with manufactured goods, machinery, and food.
Because of its nature as an archipelago, transport is particularly important. Domestic air services fly between the larger and some smaller islands, but boats transport most people between the islands. Punts with outboard motors are the most popular means of transport for rural dwellers. Bamboo rafts are made to move goods downstream from remote areas. Buses serve the larger towns. There were 49,712 licensed cars in 1995 - meaning only one person in nine can afford to run a car.
Fiji is one of the most industrialised among the Pacific Islands. Sugar plantations and processing mills were introduced by European (mostly Dutch and British) imperialists in the 1860s, and sugar still dominates the economy. It has been Fiji’s major export for about a century.
Sugar production constitutes around one third of industrial activity and represents more than half of Fiji’s exports.
The Fiji Sugar Corporation has a monopoly to mill and market sugar. 83 percent of all land is owned by ethnic Fijians, as sale to non-Fijians has been banned since 1874. Farmers of other ethnicities are regulated by leases for up to 30 years.
In 1997 economic growth fell because of a drop in world sugar prices and disputes between farmers and land owners. A drought in 1998 also hurt the industry. It recovered in 1999 contributing considerably to economic growth, though the economy shrank by eight percent in that year, and more than 7,000 workers lost their jobs in the few months immediately after Speight’s coup. Almost two years later, employers are still making redundancies quoting the attack as the reason for falling production.
Sugar is traded using long-term contracts to New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the EU.
Development plans stress the need to reduce food imports, with pessimistic implications for the Indian farmers who mainly grow Fiji’s sugarcane.
Tourism and textiles are the other major sources of foreign exchange, though tourism has suffered after the political turmoil of 2000, for example the Australian government warns that lawlessness and civil disturbance are still possible because of the tension created by Speight’s terrorist attack on parliament in 2000. Some areas still have a night-time curfew. Even so, Fiji is said to have around 300,000 visitors a year, down from over 370,000 in 1998. Snorkelling and diving is reputedly fantastic.
Tourism employs around 40,000 workers, or 15 percent of the workforce.
According to the Child Labour News Service on 15 November 2000:
A PARADISE FOR PERVS!
Fiji is fast earning an appalling reputation as a child-sex paradise and much of the blame is laid on New Zealand officialdom for their “laid-back disinterest”. “We must have far more vigorous action to protect young children from abuse by New Zealand paedophiles and sex tourists,” says Auckland-based lawyer Denise Ritchie of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT). “Our politicians and police are lagging disgracefully behind those in countries such as Australia. “And thanks largely to Fiji’s recent political upheaval having damaged its economy, the country is increasingly becoming known as an alternative destination to Thailand.” In 1993, about 200 Kiwi paedophiles a week were reportedly buying sex with children in Asia.
A Tax Free Factory/Tax Free Zone scheme was introduced in 1987, and currently boasts a 13 year tax holiday to attract foreign investment. 131 factories currently operate under the scheme with total investment of around F$95 million, jobs for 13,000 workers, and exports worth over F$250 million in 1998.
Most of these factories are in the garment sector which is now one of Fiji’s largest employers
A Foreign Investment Act in 1999 was aimed at streamlining investment procedures. Between 1991 and1998, the service sector made up an average 63.7 percent of GDP while agriculture and manufacturing accounted for 19.3 and 14.4 percent respectively.
Fish, especially canned, fresh, and chilled tuna, is the fourth largest export earner; it earned an estimated F$200 million in 1998 and employed 22,000 workers. Seaweed is an expanding sector. The government hopes the fisheries industry will earn over F$1 billion by 2004. However over-fishing is an increasing worry as the multinationals move in through deals with the government. In July 2001, Greenpeace Pacific accused the International Whaling Commission (IWC) members of failing to respect the wishes of Pacific Islanders by wrecking a proposed sanctuary for whales in the South Pacific.
South Pacific countries have lobbied for years to create a whaling sanctuary which would include their islands. Japan and Norway have direct vested interests in whaling, but other country members of the IWC (notably from the Caribbean) voted with Japan in return for foreign aid.
The government approved 20 fishing licenses for Fijians and Rotumans as part of its affirmative programme for indigenous Fijians. In 2002, the Fisheries Department received 96 applications for 16 licenses allocated for indigenous Fijians in the affirmative (or racialist) programme.
The government accused foreign businesses of using locals to buy their way into the fishing industry. As a result, licensing fees increased from $200 to $20,000 and a fee of $6,000 is now an added requirement for foreigners wishing to set up fishing ventures locally as a control measure.
Name Republic of the Fiji Islands
Area 7,095 sq. mi/18,376 sq. km
Population 844,330 (2001 est.); 772,655 (1996), 715,375 (1986)
urban 42 percent
rural 58 percent
Fijian 50 percent
Indian 45 percent
Others 5 percent
Workforce 301,500 (1996); 241,160 (1986)
Languages English (official), Fijian, Hindustani
Women 70.8 (2001 est.)
Men 65.8 (2001 est.)
Infant mortality 14/1,000 births (2001 est.)
c.f. USA 7.3/1,000 births (2000)
c.f. Japan 3.9/1,000 births (2000)
Adult Literacy 99.2 % (2001 est.)
Voting rights Universal at age 21
No. of phone lines 72,000 (1997)
mobiles 5,200 (1997)
Internet users 7,500 (2000)
Land use (%)(1993 est.)
Religion (%) Hindu (39), Methodist (37), Roman Catholic (9), Muslim (8), Other (7)
Time: GMT/UTC plus 12 hours
Weights & measures: Metric
Tourism: 300,000 visitors per year
Military 3,796 soldiers
The Industrial Association Act (1942), the Trade Union Act (TUA) (1964), and the Trade Disputes Act (1971) govern industrial relations. There are about 80 registered trade unions with about 45,000 members, or about 14.5 percent of the work force.
The Fiji Trades Union Congress is the only labour centre in Fiji. Registration of trade unions is compulsory under the TUA. The Registrar has the power to reject union applications. A minimum of seven workers can establish a union.
The TUA also stipulates 28 days official notice of strike action. The Trade Disputes Act rules on the procedures which must be followed to report a dispute to the Ministry of Labour to decide whether conciliation or a disputes committee is most appropriate.
The government amended most industrial relations laws in 1991 to help the new export-led development policy. The government reckons “amendments were made to ensure a balanced conduct of negotiations, disputes and trade union affairs. The implementation of the new labour laws has resulted in a more harmonious industrial relations environment ….. and less industrial disputes.”
A Tripartite Forum established in 1976 is used irregularly. It consists of the Fiji Trade Union Congress, the Fiji Employers’ Federation (a government Web site says the Fiji Employees’ Federation), and the government. The Forum has no executive power, but the three groups have agreed to abide by its decisions.
The 1997 Constitution Act also prompted amendments to bring industrial legislation into line with the Constitution.
Fiji ratified 19 International Labour Organisation Conventions; only three of them are among the eight ‘fundamental’ standards:
105 - Abolition of forced labour
98 - Right to organise and collective bargaining
29 - Forced labour
Human trafficking is said to be on the increase in Fiji. Officially Chinese migrants total around 2000, but unofficial estimates say there are 20,000 Chinese in Suva alone, most living illegally, and buying businesses cheap from Indians who have been leaving Fiji in numbers since the 1987 coup and accelerated by recent developments.
Occupational Safety and Health
The government sees a National Productivity Charter (1995) as crucial to its strategy for social and economic development. It is supposed to raise living standards and produce full employment. While it has generally failed in the face of political upheaval, it led to new OSH legislation.
The Health and Safety at Work Act, effective since November 1997, is applicable to all industrial sectors except mining and quarrying. It instructs employers to create new systems such as workplace safety committees.
Education and Health
Education was not compulsory in 1998, but the government thinks that 98 percent of six to 14 year olds attended primary schools. It aimed to make primary education compulsory by 2000, but it is unclear if this happened. The government provides scholarships to improve academic performance for ethnic Fijians, and says it aims to extend them to other ethnicities. Government supplies some primary and secondary education, but most schools are run by racial or religious groups.
Secondary education depends on competitive examination where students pay fees subsidised by the government.
Fiji and eleven other Pacific Island countries fund the budget for the University of the South Pacific, which is near Suva, but run as a regional institution. Foreign aid pays for buildings and capital development. Lessons from the university are broadcast by satellite to far flung regional centres. It enrolled 4,000 students in 1996.
Though English is the official language, Fijian and Hindi are taught in schools.
The government actively encourages private health care to limit spending by the Ministry of Health. Private doctors practice in all large towns. There is a national network of clinics and small hospitals, and major hospitals are in Suva, Lautoka, and Labasa.
It is suggested that birth and death rates are lower in Fiji than other Pacific Islands due to a higher degree of industrialisation.