1 May 2019

Hundreds of Fiji Water Authority workers turned away from offices

12:56 pm on 1 May 2019

Hundreds of workers at the Water Authority of Fiji have been turned away from work this morning amid confusion over worker contracts.

Water Authority of Fiji workers wait outside the company's Kinoya station in the capital this morning.

Water Authority of Fiji workers wait outside the company's Kinoya station in the capital this morning. Photo: Supplied

A clerical worker with the national water utility, Lusiana Manutagi, said she and over 100 colleagues at WAF's Waila station outside the capital Suva had been told by security and police officers that they could not enter their workplace.

Ms Manutagi, a mother of three, said she had been a clerk there for the past three years.

"We were locked out from the security guards. They said they were informed by the HQ," she said.

"You know, we have families. We have families to support. We feel saddened about this whole situation. It will really affect me, for all of us."

Ms Manutagi said staff at Waila met with management yesterday but the company failed to inform the workers of this morning's lockout.

She said they would remain outside the office gates and wait for their union representatives to arrive.

Another worker, Mere Lita, said they met with company managers yesterday.

"They told us our contracts had expired and that they cannot make us all permanent workers."

At the meeting, film of which has been posted on social media, workers were told that if they were all made permanent, the government would collapse.

Staff were informed they would need to reapply for their jobs and go through a recruitment process.

Ms Lita said this was not fair and staff at the meeting objected.

"Most of us have worked for WAF for more than one year continuously," she said.

"In the Collective Agreement, it says that a permanent worker is someone who has worked continuously for the Water Authority for one year. A temporary worker is someone who has worked within six months."

She said they received their offer letters from the company in February stating "as per collective agreement".

Ms Lita said on Monday workers were notified that their employment with WAF would be terminated.

Ms Manutagi said she was offended that after three years at WAF, "they have terminated my job".

"I will now have to reapply and go throught the whole recruitment process which will take a long time," she said.

"And I don't know if I will get the job. What will happen then? This should be illegal."

Ms Manutagi said they would be paid for today's lockout.

May Day treatment of water utility workers slammed

Felix Anthony, National Secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Congress said several union members had been taken in by the police.

He said workers had been threatened with arrest if they did not leave.

"We have real people who have been turned away from work this morning. I think they need to explain if that's not redundancy or if that's not termination, what is it?

"This is going to be the biggest group of workers being terminated in Fiji's history and this happens on May Day."

Mr Anthony said the police are even chasing people away from the land that is owned by the union and stopping workers from congregating on their own land.

Fiji Village reported the Water Authority is working with the police to deal with some Water Authority workers gathering outside the WAF depots.

The website reports the police chief Sitiveni Qiliho has confirmed that "there is a situation at some of the depots".

Felix Anthony

Felix Anthony Photo: RNZ

Police are at the scene and are also advising workers that they have to follow the law, Fiji Village reported.

WAF was expected to issue a statement today.

"The National Union of Workers (NUW) are making deliberate attempts to mislead Fijians by giving them incorrect information and are causing fear and confusion," Board Chairman, Bhavesh Kumar, said yesterday.

"Unions have started touting the lie that 600 WAF workers have been terminated, which is completely untrue.

"Most of them have in fact successfully passed their performance assessments, and WAF's Human Resources team is in the process of renewing their contracts," he said.