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Thought Fiji was paradise? Think again.

Ahead of the launch of regular flights to Australia of the rebranded Fiji Airways next month, unions are urging potential Australian tourists to find out more about the attacks on human and workers’ rights in Fiji and think twice before visiting the island.

Unions have today launched a new global online campaign aimed at raising awareness about the reality of life under Fiji’s military dictatorship, and calling for the Australian and New Zealand Governments to turn up the pressure on regime leader Frank Bainimarama to restore democracy.

The Destination Fiji:A Vacation from Workers’ Rights campaign will use social media to allow people to directly call for the use of Australia’s diplomatic and economic clout to force change in Fiji, which has been living under a dictatorship since the military seized control in a coup in 2006.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said recent developments in Fiji, including the rejection of a new independently prepared draft Constitution, pointed towards next year’s elections being a sham.

She said the regime had stripped workers of their wages and conditions, free speech has been stifled and the country’s Constitution and Bill of Rights have been treated with disdain.

Union leaders have been harassed and beaten, it is illegal for more than three people to meet without a permit, and meanwhile, the average Fijian’s standard of living has fallen under the dictatorship.

Ms Kearney said 60% of Fijian wage earners were living below the poverty line, while the cost of living is skyrocketing.

“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,” she said.

“The new Fiji Airways [currently Air Pacific] 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’, 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. You will find out that the average hotel worker earns less than $3 an hour and that most wages are 15 to 30% below the poverty line.

“Spread the word to your friends, and tell the Australian Government that it can do more to influence real change in Fiji. Australians should join the international call for change and help ordinary Fijians get their paradise back.”

The new campaign is jointly spearheaded by the ACTU, the International Trade Union Confederation, the NZCTU and Equal Times.

The campaign website is http://www.destinationfiji.org/