The anti-women Report of the Fiji Employment and Development Mission 1984
[A version of this may be found as “The Political Economy of Employment Missions: a case study of the Fiji Employment and Development Mission, 1982‑84” in Class and Culture, edited by A. Hooper. (1987)AucklandUniversity and Institute of Pacific Studies,University ofSouth Pacific. pp. 194-208.]
The Fiji Employment and Development Mission (FEDM) was jointly sponsored by the EEC and the Fiji Government and funded by the EEC. While two of the three original resident members of the Mission were from the University of East Anglia, the Head of the Mission was from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex in Britain and the Final Report was authored by the Head of the Mission and the Institute of Development Studies.
Given the gender sensitivity of the institutions where these experts came from, no one would expect such a Mission to produced a Report that would be biased against women. Yet that is precisely what happened.
It would also seem that there were fundamental disagreements between the resident members and the Head of the Mission, as to the implementation of the study. Only the Head of the Mission had his stay extended until he had completed the Final Report. It may be of relevance that at least one of the three original resident members of the Mission felt marginalized during his involvement in the project and is now a significant critic of the Mission, the Report and some of its recommendations.
The Report of the Fiji Employment and Development Mission was the culmination of more than two years of intensive and extensive study of Fiji’s economy, and attempts to be a “a comprehensive and independent evaluation of the country’s emerging unemployment problem”. We shall question its alleged independence” below.
Here we note that the Mission had as “core members” internationally and regionally recognized and respected academics such as Dudley Seers and Brookfield, in addition to being internationally legitimated by the IDS’s authorship.
The Report has already been used as a powerful justification of Government policies, such as the Wage Freeze on all employees, unilaterally imposed by the Fiji Government in November of 1984. The Head of the Mission was flown in from Britain, specifically to attend the Fiji Government’s two-day Economic Summit in February 1985, when powerful interest groups (excluding the Labour Movement and the Official Parliamentary Opposition Party) (the non-involvement of the Opposition should not be taken to suggest that the NFP were in any fundamental disagreement with the Government’s Wage Freeze) were orchestrated in support of the Wage Freeze.
While the Head of the Mission expressed serious reservations as to the Government’s interpretation of his Final Report, the reality remains that the document is now a powerful validating agency for Government’s policies. It is thought that elements of the Report may be incorporated into Fiji’s Ninth Development Plan. Specifically, it would seem that the spirit of the Report’s reactionary treatment of women, has already permeated Government thinking and is in the process of implementation in some areas.
The Articulation of Women as the “Problem”
In the process of seeking solutions to the unemployment problems of Fiji, the Report makes numerous implicit and explicit assumptions about what constitutes fundamental units of society, about the benefits of “families”, about the role of women in society in general, about the role of women as guardians of “families” etc. These assumptions may be challenged at the fundamental level, and if shown to be incorrect, must naturally undermine the substance of the Mission’s recommendations regarding women.
It is extraordinary that the Report explicitly claimed (Report:150) that women may be seen as representing a very large reservoir which could either “supply labour for growth” or which “could swamp the labour market”. In presenting women per se as a potential problem for the labour market, the Report creates the basis for the next logical step, namely, particular recommendations for ensuring that women do not “swamp” the market.
The invidiousness of the above method of categorising women may be seen if we replace “women” by “men” or “ethnic Fijians”. What would be totally unacceptable for other politically powerful groups, makes it into print in this influential document. Women are already not seen as full members of society requiring total fulfilment in the same manner as men, but seen as an extraneous category, outside of the inner non-challengable circle of the “labour market”.
The Report assumes that the society’s basic consumption unit was the “family” and links the solution of the unemployment problem with the distribution of jobs among families. It is suggested that the attempt should be made to ensure that (Report:xii) “the welfare costs of job scarcity are minimised by increasing the likelihood that such full-time jobs as are available should be distributed relatively evenly among society’s basic consumption units, namely the family (appropriately defined)”.
Again, if one were to establish that in capitalism, the fundamental consumption unit was not the family, the recommendations of the FEDM would be undermined. Specifically, if in Fiji’s specific circumstances, it could be established that the optimisation of the “family” welfare was not synonymous with optimizing the welfare of women, then the Mission’s logic would be fundamentally flawed.
Having assumed the household as the basic unit whose welfare ought to be maximized, the Report very logically then worries about the “discovery” that the number of two-salary households in Fiji was increasing, and that these had potentially serious implications for income distribution and welfare. It is astonishing that while most of the IDS would have thought that the fundamental problems of income distribution in a capitalist economy like Fiji would have rested on capital-labour relations, the Report sees the involvement of women in paid employment, as a significant factor in income inequalities.
Women’s work is already seen not as a productive contribution to society, but as representing a right to a share of the cake eroding the share of others. The Report, which pivots its entire Report on analysis based on pure “demand and supply” considerations, comes to what must be the central tantalizing “fact” : between 1975 and 1980, women secured no less than 48% of the total increase in wage and salary jobs. Furthermore, while 80% of women worked in only three sectors, they had secured an advance in every sector.
The idea being presented would seem to be of hordes of women advancing on every front in the economy, guzzling up jobs potentially available to others. There would even seem to be an implication that women had increased their share of the higher incomes fastest. While statistically, this might even be true, the fact that women would have been starting from a low base and even marginal changes would naturally imply large proportionate changes, ought to have excluded that observation altogether.
As it is, the Report itself has figures indicating that the fastest growing share for women had been in the lowest quintiles. The latter ought to be further viewed in the Report’s frequent explicit recognition of the discriminatory low rates of pay for women in the Fijian economy.
The Report, observing the greater involvement of women in paid employment, claimed it was an open question whether the net social and economic effects of these changes would be positive. Here, the Report jumps in feet first, and makes the grand attempt to link women’s future with the preservation of the “family”. It begins by seeming to fight for a fairer treatment of women by the “planners” and policy-makers in the economy. The Report complains about the anomaly that women’s work in the household was statistically ignored by economists. Having thereby implicitly reassured the women that the Mission at least recognized women’s true worth to society by evaluating their work in the kitchen at market prices, the Mission asserts that with the bulk of women employed domestically, the future pattern of their activity was inextricably tied up with the future of the family.
The jumps in logical deduction being made here seem flabbergasting. Is the Report suggesting that since women had historically been in the kitchen (euphemistically being associated with the family), this was where their future lay?
The Report sadly pointed to unfortunate single mothers (what proportion of women?) who not only had to look after the family, but also struggle in a labour market dominated by men (which latter reality the Report itself assiduously continues to foster). In these conditions, it was vital that the family unit be preserved. Indeed, for the Report, the family had been one of the key elements protecting Fiji in the unfriendly world economy, and might even be considered an important economic feature of the “Pacific Way”.
Now fighting for egalitarianism, the Report pointed out that the family could become a source of concentrating income, especially where one spouse’s influence increased the other’s ability to obtain a job. It is ironic that the Report came up with no specific recommendations to eliminate this specific problem, which they clearly use as justification for their overall policy recommendations. In this one area, one might have expected immediate solutions by the Government.
The Mission advised that, given a certain level of efficiency, that given that the family unit was, and ought to continue to be , the central consumption unit, scarce income resources should be so distributed across households as to minimise the number which had no income sources adequate for their subsistence.
What, however, were their specific proposals to achieve this?
The Report as “defender” of women’s rights
It should be pointed out that at every turn, the Report reassures the reader that the objectives outlined in the Report should not, and indeed could not, be achieved through discrimination in the hiring or remuneration of individuals. Rather, it is claimed that their Report and policy recommendations focused on the creation of appropriate incentives to induce the spread of income sources, while strengthening the family unit and ensuring equality of treatment for individuals.
One key recommendation stated (Report:xii) “Although it is important that all individuals should be treated equally in the labour market so that discrimination based on household status wouldbe both indefensible, and unworkable, the Mission has argued that income tax should be based on household income so that the tax structure could have its intended progressive impact, and would also, at the margin, help to distribute regular wage/salary jobs more equally between households”.
The Report warns that failure to redistribute incomes across households would increase destitution. As an even more compelling reason, it is pointed out that even if their recommended measures did not lead to the desired effect of eliminating two-salary households, they would raise additional revenue which would become available for transfer payments.
The Report advised those worried about the treatment of women sweat-shop conditions in industries like the garments industry, that minimum wages were not the answer even if the wage did not cover the minimum subsistence. It would be pointless to refuse to allow the existence of jobs paying wages which currently unemployed people were anxious to accept.
The Report reassured the reader that if fewer families reached the point of destitution, the supply of labour would decline and this would arrest the decline in wages.
The Implications of the Recommendations
Note that we want to look at two effects : firstly, the effects of the direct recommendations themselves; secondly, the indirect effects encouraged by the validation of the framework and the assumptions within which women in the economy are now being analysed, and the resulting recommendations which even the writer of the Report might find “unacceptable”.
The Mission recommends that the tax system be used to encourage two-job households to become one-job households by taxing the combined household income. Presumably, with the combined incomes going into the higher marginal tax brackets, there might be a sufficient disincentive provided to one of the salary earners to leave paid employment.
The fundamental question is who would bear the burden of adjustment? Firstly, while the Report seems to be adopting a neutral stance in claiming that the household should be free treat either the husband’s or the wife’s income as the secondary one, this does in no way imply that there would not be a systematic bias against women in the proposed system.
Firstly, let us deal with the hypothetical situation where the Mission’s hopes become fulfilled, and one of the husband-wife working pair is induced to leave paid employment. It ought to be obvious, that given the historical reality that women have been discriminated against in terms of opportunities for paid employment, for training, for promotions, and in remuneration, in most two-job households, it would be the wife who has the lower salary. If one member than has to leave paid employment, or to take on “half-time jobs for half-pay” , a pure dollars and cents rationality would in the majority of cases mean that the wife would leave the job, if anyone was going to. This would be for no other reason but that the household income be maximised in a one-job situation. This would be the market reaction to the Report’s proposals.
It would be idle for the Report to claim that they had no intention of forcing women specifically out of work and that the charge of discrimination against women could not be laid against them. It ought to be fairly obvious that in the Fiji situation, it is well recognized that where there are minorities or majorities which have been historically discriminated against by the normal operations of a system, then the State steps in and applies positive discrimination in favour of that discriminated group. We see this in operation in one form or the other in the directing of bank loans, scholarships, appointments, promotions, government projects, public services etc to disadvantaged income groups, ethnic categories, regions, rural areas etc.
The FEDM Report is remarkable for its dismal failure to make a single qualifying recommendation to ensure that the disadvantaged partner in the household, namely the wife, will be encouraged to stay on in employment.We next need to ask who precisely would be the kinds of people “encouraged” to leave paid employment.
Firstly, it would be clear that professional women (or men) like energy experts, librarians, doctors and lawyers will not stop working simply because they begin to pay higher taxes out of their incomes. In terms of personal fulfillment alone they would not do so. If they did do so as a result of Government policy, it would be a damning comment on the rationality of a Government which encourages the waste of valuable human resources, on which the Fiji public have already invested large sums.
Secondly, it would be clear that it would not be women at the higher income levels who would leave. The suggested tax mechanism, operating “at the margin” would only work if the after-tax income and benefits of the second working partner was less than or near to the gains to be had by that partner staying at home. The households on whom the hoped-for effect would take place, would be the lower income households, where the wives would be factory-workers, typists, clerks and other low income earners.
It would be obvious that it is precisely this class of people who would be shouldering comparatively the heaviest burdens in terms of paying for home mortgages, education for their children and other major expenses. Given that many of the significant debts would only have been shouldered on the assumption of the second job and income, it would be iniquitous of the Government to then proceed to undermine their debt-servicing capacity. The FEDM Report’s proposal to tax joint family incomes would seem to affect fundamental considerations of equity and ownership in our society, especially for women.
Let us first take the case where the woman is eliminated from the work-place. There is nothing in our legal system to suggest that a marriage partner, per se, is entitled to a share, equal or other-wise, to the wealth nominally owned by the other. Historically, women have had to struggle to even be able to own their own property. They have had to struggle to obtain shares in enterprises to which they have directly and indirectly contributed. Here, they would be denied total access to their income-earning and wealth creating capacity, with no countervailing proposal as to their rights over the income of the remaining working partner. Justice would require this, yet it could reasonably be conjectured that such a provision is unlikely to be made.
If we next take the case where despite the additional taxation, both the working partners remain in employment, precisely the same fundamental question of the sharing of the costs, arises. How will the burden of the additional taxation be shared? It would seem that the FEDM Report assumes that whichever income is chosen by the household as the secondary income, would bear the burden of the higher marginal tax rates, otherwise it makes no sense to make a choice as to which is the primary or secondary income. The combined incomes and tax will be the same. If it is the woman’s income which is declared the secondary income, as is likely, given the balance of decision-making forces in most households, then it would be manifestly unjust that the income-earning and wealth-owning capacity of the woman be fundamentally constrained.
It is possible that the strategy would include some mechanism to ensure that the after-tax division of income be in the same proportion as the pre-tax incomes. It is unlikely that such a redeeming feature would be incorporated into an otherwise reactionary proposal. This still would leave one fundamental contradiction in the entire proposal.
In the capitalist economy, ownership of assets and responsibility of personal liabilities are all ultimately at the level of the individual, not at the level of the household. All individuals are basically free to remain within or to leave a particular household. In the absence of formal legal proposals to ensure the permanent integrity and continuing existence of a specific household with specific partners (another can of worms), any proposal to limit the income-earning and wealth-owning capacity of an individual by the criterion of membership of a household, is fundamentally flawed. In terms of basic fundamentals, why should the income-earning and wealth-owning capacity of any individual be constrained simply because he or she decides to co-habit, for the purposes of procreation or any other reasons, with another individual?
The ridiculousness of the proposal may be seen if we ask how the state would treat a divorced couple. If one of the partners had given up employment to attain the proposed ideal of a one-job family, would she (or he) be compensated for a lifetime of lost income? If the burden of the lost job or increased taxation had been shared, would both the ex-partners be compensated for their past extra burden once they had separated, and presumably were no longer concentrating ownership of income and wealth as the FEDM Report claimed?
The contradictions in the whole idea may be seen further if we ask how it would be proposed to deal with a household with grown-up, employed, but unmarried children. Would the ideal still be a one-job household? How would unmarried but co-habiting couples be treated? Will we see the setting up of further quangos to decide whether a community of persons constitutes a household or no?
The FEDM’s treatment of women underlines the weaknesses inherent in any analysis which gives greatest weight to analysing a social-economic problem in terms of market supply and demand. It would seem that there was one basic statistic which may have tantilised a Mission bankrupt of any real ideas for eliminating employment: that in the last few years, women had taken up half of the new jobs supplied to the market. Eliminate this half of the demand, and hey presto, one automatically doubles the rate of growth of employment “for the other half”. The unemployment problem is solved, because unemployed women are simply defined away.
It is even argued that in doing so, society is countering a fundamental evil contributed to by the employment of women: viz the breakdown of the family. The women eliminated from paid employment could return to their old traditional role of strengthening the family.
The FEDM Report claims (p 171) that the shift to a family based tax structure would not impede any individual’s access to employment of affect the formal conditions associated with such employment. However, if jobs are spread at the margin, as the Report hopes, not only would married women be eliminated from the paid workplace, but future access to employment for women would be necessarily curtailed. Further, the very mechanism to achieve this end is greater taxation of the combined incomes, surely part of the “formal conditions” of employment.
The Report’s hopes would seem to be little more than contradictory, empty, pious platitudes. It is an anomaly that the FEDM Report focused on the “family” as a source of income and wealth inequalities. One would have thought that there are more fundamental mechanisms at work in a capitalist economy, and much more fundamental and just mechanisms for ensuring the dispersion of ownership.
In terms of the traditional taxation ideals of both vertical and horizontal equity, it ought to be obvious that membership of a household makes no positive contribution per se, to achieving these ideals. It merely provides the basis for more bankrupt and regressive policies to be articulated and implemented.
Some of these policies are already coming into effect. The Government have been reported to be considering proposals to encourage or force married women to leave work, or to adopt job-sharing schemes. The proposal is explicitly articulated in terms of women employees in the Civil Service. It is explicitly stated in terms of occupations such as typists and clerks. There are no redeeming features if the kind we have suggested.
A Report like this from IDS Sussex?
It is only left to discuss how the FEDM could have come up with a recommendation so blatantly regressive. The Institute of Development Studies, which is stated to be the author of the Report, is renowned throughout the academic world for the progressive and praiseworthy work being done by some of their staff, on the liberation of women.
One of their key resource persons in this area, Dr Kate Young in a personal communication, has noted that the current focus of the people working on this area in the Institute has been precisely on trying to assess the impact of the recent recessionary period on women’s employment, and the likely impact of the introduction of new technologies on women’s employment possibilities, so as to be able to make some statements as to the sort of policies which governments, trade unions, voluntary organisations must take up and support so as to guarantee women who need employment access to it on equal terms with men. She stated “I was not unfortunately consulted at all about the report nor its recommendations .”
Whatever the extent of its impact, women in Fiji directly or indirectly, must be affected. It must seem strange that the Institute of Development Studies which is stated to be the author of the Final Report, did not see fit to involve the considerable expertise available within their own organization, to advise on the implications of the Report’s recommendations for women’s welfare.
It seems obvious from the preface to the Report that the mission could have had resort to other expertise after the writing of the Interim Report. It was decided not to do so and only the Head of the Mission continued, and was responsible for the Final Report. It could be argued that the Report’s treatment of women specifically indicates that the Head of the Mission was ill-qualified to advise on these aspects. Not only might this be deduced from the outrageous proposals directly affecting women, but also others where they would be indirectly but undoubtedly affected.
One such instance would derive from the recommendation that in order to ultimately reduce the supply of job applicants on the market, one strategy might be to increase the age of entry to primary schools. In addition to the deleterious consequences for the children of lower income people, the burden of staying home in order to look after the pre-school child would also fall on the woman in the household. This would seem a logical consequence of the recommendation. The authors of the Mission did not seem to take cognizance of this.
Such blatant failures may have been prevented had the Mission had referred to resource people with direct expertise in the area. This the Mission clearly failed to do. It is relevant to ask why the FEDM chose not to seek the advice of internationally renowned expertise, employed by the very Institute of Development Studies, which authored the Final Report and which must take responsibility for the recommendations and its effects on the welfare of Fiji women and people in general. It is not credible to suggest that it was an oversight.
There remain several possibilities, or some combination of them. It is possible that the Fiji Government (Cabinet) itself may have insisted that these specific resource people be not drawn upon and the Mission, against all their own convictions, compromised on their independence and own views.
Secondly, the Mission itself may have decided not to draw on this expertise. This possibility is given support by the views of one of the resident members of the Mission who has suggested at a public meeting that the Head of the Mission came to Fiji with his mind made up on this issue. This in itself would raise more serious questions, not separable from the role of the Institute of Development Studies itself, in the direction given to or taken by the FEDM.
Two serious options remain: either the IDS itself did not see the relevance of obtaining the expertise on women in the Institute itself, or it was decided not to. The former is not a credible option given the emphasis on women’s issues within the IDS in terms of teaching and research work.
The latter raises more complex issues and factors, some of which may be : the necessity for the Institute of Development Studies to survive in a Thatcherite Britain with increasing financial constraints especially for educational institutions which do not complement the ideological international thrust of the dominant British classes; the self-admitted conscious decision by the Institute to make itself commercially more marketable in the international consultancies arena, with the resultant pressure to author a Final Report acceptable to the international funding and accrediting organizations like the EEC, the World Bank, the IMF etc.; the resulting pressure placed on its staff to justify their continuing employment at the Institute by earning consultancies or work-points; the corresponding pressure on academics within the Institute to become themselves commercially marketable as international consultants or face the alternative of becoming marginalised or even redundant.
The last set of possibilities may be discussed in relation to the growing capitalist crisis, nationally and internationally. It may be conjectured that conflict between capital and labour and specifically, the attempt by capital to force labour to bear the brunt of adjustment to capitalist crises gives rise to a tendency for revolutionary situations to develop which may threaten the process of accumulation.
If the conflict between capital and labour is however transformed into a gender conflict, with the burden of adjustment being placed on women, then this must give respite to capital in the long run. (There is the complicating issue that in the short run, accumulation is accentuated by the relatively lower wage rates politically payable to women workers).
The implications of the FEDM recommendations involving women must be analysed not in isolation but within the context of the broader struggles by Fiji women for full and materially recognized economic participation on equal terms with men.
Several recent studies (Sofield:1985), (Agar et al: 1984), (Lal and Slatter: 1982) point to not only massive inadequacies in Government effort in this area, but outline proposals where the attempt to redress the balance may begin. Lal and Slatter (1982) and Sofield (1985) point to the effective marginalisation of women from the remunerative parts and developments in fisheries and agriculture. They call for more projects aimed specifically at generating development for women, for women to have a greater say in national development policies, all which fundamentally affect women’s lives.
In the specific area of employment, Agar and others (1984: iii) recommend that Government introduce measures which “ensure that women have : – equal access to employment – equal promotion opportunities – equal pay for work of equal value – equal benefits and conditions for equal responsibilities and vocational guidance – equal opportunities for training”. Furthermore they ask Government to promote greater participation of women in the workforce through extension of child care facilities and other measures.
From Government rhetoric, it would seem that the hopes of women are at last being implemented. Development Plan 9, in the tiny section devoted to women and development claimed (p 77-78) Government policy on employment and remuneration within the Civil Service is non-discriminatory, and it is hoped that the private sector will follow this example… where the sexes may be in competition for employment and training opportunities, selection must be based on merit”.
The Development Plan articulated other praiseworthy goals of encouraging women to reach their full potential through training and scholarship grants, to integrate them fully into the national development process, to collect statistics relevant for aiding women’s development, to review discriminatory legislation. The Plan recognized that the changing role of women required adjustments within the family and society.
Yet the discussion above might suggest that the Government is in the process of doing an about turn in all aspects mentioned above. Far from requiring family and society to adjust, the rhetoric is now for women to readjust back to their traditional oppressed roles in order to remove pressure on jobs for the other half of society. Government is now beginning a policy of effective discrimination against women, with the hope that the private sector will follow. Far from employment on merit (positive discrimination is clearly a utopian dream), the threat is of reduced employment for females, cloaked in the empty rhetoric of protection and strengthening of the family.