21 Nov 2003

Fiji union seeks to negotiate return to work at Suva building site

10:47 am on 21 November 2003

About 150 construction workers in Fiji are still on strike in a dispute over pay and safety at a site operated by the New Zealand company, Fletcher Construction.

A union representative, John Paul, says since they walked off the job last Friday about 95-percent of the work force has joined the union.

Mr Paul says Fletchers refusal to acknowledge the union's freedom of association for its workers is a breach of their rights.

"I think the workers at the moment are at the mercy of the employer with threats of victimisation. Because they've taken this, and I don't think workers will go back with any peace they're going to making on the site cos the employer already singled out they've been sacked and that they'll be recruited, and shifted around where they'd be totally at the mercy of the employer."

John Paul says this won't happen as the union is now taking on the responsibility to maintain the rights of the striking workers.

The chief executive of Fletcher Construction in Auckland, Mark Binns, says it will not negotiate with any union over the fate of the workers.

Mr Binns says union representation for the workers is not relevant.

We're dealing directly with the site representatives not with the union. As far as we're concerned, the union wasn't on site at the time these incidents occured, and we're just dealing with site representatives. 14

Mr Binns says the site passed a New Zealand safety audit last month.

Fletcher Fiji Manager Peter Watts says workers are welcome to return to work at any time.