Sep 23, 2020 Last Updated 9:19 PM, Sep 22, 2020

“From capital to develop and export goods like coffee, to training and support with digital platforms, Pacific businesses – especially female-led business – are in urgent need of tangible support,” says the Pacific Trade Investment (PTI) Australia Trade & Investment Commissioner, Caleb Jarvis.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 on female-led businesses in the Pacific continues to rise, according to the latest Pacific Business Monitor survey conducted by PTI.

The fifth survey in PTI’s ongoing series has found that 92% of female-led businesses have reported a fall in revenue.  In comparison to the previous survey, the number of fully operational female-led businesses has declined from 29% to 23%, while partially operational businesses have increased from 19% to 41%.

Jarvis states that despite the COVID-19 free status of most Pacific Island Countries (PICs) “the economic impact of closed borders has been debilitating, especially for nations that are reliant on tourism – a sector with a high proportion of female employees.”

“Many women are performing a juggling act – balancing work with being the primary care givers,’ explains Jarvis- a trend correlating to findings published in a recent report by the United Nations titled, ‘Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women’.

The UN report notes that girls and women are ‘suffering more’ due to many factors: home schooling, disproportionate lack of access to digital tools, work capital, skills and higher care responsibilities. 

The latest PTI survey finds that COVID-19 has had a ‘negative impact’ on the mental health of 31% of female-led business in contrast to 14% of male-led businesses.  Levels of happiness and optimism continue to decline as 45% report felling worried ‘most of the time’ or ‘all of the time’. 

Despite the negative impacts, more female-led businesses are implementing adaptive measures such as pivoting to online business, and seeking rent reductions or relief. 

Jarvis states that “it’s a long road ahead, and its vital that we continue to champion the voice of businesses in the Pacific by continuing to provide quantitative results to governments, donors and regional organisations so they can see the realities facing Pacific businesses.”

The University of the South Pacific (USP) recently invited 30 employers to engage in a two-day exposition at its annual Career and Internship Fair.

The event was organized by USP’s Career and Entrepreneurship Center, Campus Life and allows USP students to learn about graduate training programs, attend career planning workshop sessions and interact with potential employers from the public and private sectors.  The theme for this year’s fair was “Your Future Direction”.

Amongst the speakers at the event were three female engineers from the Fiji Roads Authority (FRA). Amor Acapulco and her colleagues spoke extensively about women’s empowerment in the male dominated career field.  

“Civil engineering is not only for men… there are a lot successful women in engineering, like all the women sitting in front of me, and I believe even more can succeed.  I have done it, so could you,” she emphasised.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on the recruitment patterns were also major part of discussions at the event. Martha Wedlock, an employee of Mind Pearl underlined this issue.

“I want to educate students that even though the aviation companies and other businesses are slowing down, that’s not the end of it.”

Wedlock said that Mind Pearl and other organisations will continue to adapt their business practices and showcase resilience in the face of current economic climate, by sharing knowledge and through in-house training opportunities to enhance employee skills.

Meandering through the exposition booths, fourth year law student Pelenaisi Tu’i encouraged fellow USP students to fully utilise this opportunity. 

“It’s a great opportunity for students because it will give them more knowledge, and when they go out to work they will know what to do,” she said. 

“It is people, their skills and abilities who will rebuild our economy post COVID-19,” Fiji’s Minster for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Mereseini Vuniwaqa told attendees at the launch of a Fashion Incubation Centre in Suva recently.

The Centre is a joint initiative of the Fiji National University (FNU) and the Australian Pacific Training Coalition (APTC), and the product of consultations held with Fiji’s fashion industry in 2019.  These discussions aimed to identify and explore ways to address the production needs of local designers and fashion graduates of FNU and APTC.  

Minister Vuniwaqa said the Centre would provide an ‘enabling environment’ for aspiring designers to unleash their full potential. 

The FNU’s Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor, Tessa Price commended the partnership, stating that it would provide integrated short courses in various areas.

“The programmes designed for the Centre will provide guidance, mentoring, technical skills, business support and mentoring for both local and regional designers,” said Price.

Also speaking at the launch, The Chair of Fiji Fashion Council, Andrew Powell stated that the Centre showcases the fresh talent Fiji has to offer in the fashion sector.

“I am confident that the Fashion Incubation Centre will play an important role in enhancing Fiji’s image as a great place to shop, and a great trendsetter in today’s global fashion market,” said Powell. 

All speakers at the event commended the timely launch of the Fashion Incubation Centre, especially during the current social and economic hardships induced by COVID-19. Minister Vuniwaqa underlined that the coming months and years will be challenging for Fiji’s economy and society.

She further added that Fijian Government’s recovery strategy is focused on getting ‘people back to work’ work during the post COVID-19, especially in skill-based, sustainable employment.

The Centre will provide production runs for small business entrepreneurs who typically make low- quantity orders and allow them to contribute towards Fiji’s economic recovery. 

Jobless numbers soar in Fiji

  • Sep 23, 2020
  • Published in August

Unscripted and unplanned, Fijians have returned quietly to the land and the sea over the past months as the impacts of job losses brought about by the COVID19 pandemic began to bite.

In the tourism belts of Nadi and nearby Sigatoka, former hotel and resort workers – in their hundreds – are turning to farming and fishing virtually overnight.

Necessity is driving them, and no one knows when, how, or indeed if, this quiet revolution will end.
“With many in the village losing their work, we no longer have a steady income to buy food so we’re planting our own,” says Epeli Ganilau.
He is Turaganikoro, village administrator of Sanasana, the traditional owners of the land which hosts the multi-million dollar InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa and the Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course.

With almost all the men and women in the village laid off work from the resort and its neighbouring golf course, Sanasana has revived their youth and women clubs to spearhead the return to subsistence farming and fishing.

Other villages in Fiji’s tourism belt on Viti Levu’s west coast and Vanua Levu’s south coast around Savusavu town have done the same; closure of hotels and supporting businesses has driven jobless men, women and youths back to subsistence farming, or fishing.

Figures are daunting, and likely to worsen

A survey of tourism businesses by the International Finance Corporation and Fiji’s Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport found that if the current situation doesn’t change by this November (a likely scenario given recent increases in COVID diagnoses in the Australian and New Zealand source markets), over 500 of the 3,569 businesses surveyed anticipate bankruptcy. If international travel does not resume within six months, 60.5% of those surveyed will close or move away from the tourism sector.

The study further found that 20% of tourism businesses are currently unable to service their debt, and a further 16% expect to default on their debt within one to four months, and have called for loan repayment moratoria, further tax reductions/holidays, and financial support for recovery and rent deferral.

Meanwhile a study by the International Labour Organisation on the impact of COVID-19 on employment also released at the end of last month found half of the workers surveyed had lost their jobs, and most of those still in employment were on reduced hours. More than half of redundant workers said they could not find jobs and needed financial support, and 46% had ventured into subsistence living and operating a microbusiness. Almost all (99%) said the government should do more to protect their jobs and rights, “instead of depleting their retirement fund.”

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As Fiji’s largest foreign exchange earner pre-COVID-19, the tourism and hospitality sectors went into free fall when international borders closed due to the spread of the pandemic, and the nation entered into lock down mode.

Up to 112,000 workers were out of work almost overnight, most of whom worked in Fiji’s hotels and resorts. Most of them are now surviving by drawing on their life savings at Fiji’s National Provident Fund.

As workers adjust to the new normal, Fantasha Lockington and her team at the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association have been busy helping members to prepare for the wholesale operational and indeed, cultural changes, the industry requires.

She explains some of these changes in an interview with Islands Business publisher, Samisoni Pareti:

Fantasha Lockington: We’ve worked with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Tourism for COVID safe guidelines to be put in place. The Association is using those guidelines as a baseline for what we do in the tourism industry.

Obviously the larger branding properties would defer to their overseas brands or their sister hotels overseas to incorporate the requirements that get rolled out throughout the hotels. But we want to make sure that our medium and small size operators that don’t have those linkages can also do best practice themselves. So, we’ve used the government’s COVID-safe guidelines and we are putting more details into it that identify with the different tourism segments.

The idea is that we ensure that we provide the confidence level that potential visitors would need for them to actually book. Fiji will need to have every single business buy into this COVID-safe guideline. It can’t be just tourism businesses that need to do it. If you’re a bank and your clients are tourism businesses, you must be implementing these things too. If you’re a supplier of some sort, and you’re going to have to drop off some supplies at a hotel you need to do this as well.

That includes downloading the Fiji Care app, and already at the hotels if you check in now, they will be scanning you at the entrance of the door, they will be taking your name, they will be reminding you to download the app. Fiji Airways is making it compulsory to download the app to make sure they can do contact tracing. We’re just putting together the last part of the plan which will determine the training section of what the Ministry of Health would also need in terms of the special medical practices.

If somebody is sick what do you do, what are the processes, how do you isolate them, who do you call, and then what is the process that works from there.  Every possible scenario or question has to be responded to.

I will be working with TLTB (iTaukei Land Trust Board), FITBA (the backpacker’s association), SOFTA, the transfer vessels and companies that take tourists out to the outer islands. They are not all our members out in the islands, so we want to be able to touch base with them and I’m hoping that TLTB can assist us do that, and we’re signing an MOU with them very soon to promote a closer working relationship with locally owned businesses that they work with.

Read the full interview at https://emag.islandsbusiness.com/

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