3 May 2019

Fiji union unhappy with outcome of tribunal hearing

4:22 pm on 3 May 2019
Workers from the Fiji Water Authority stage a protest in Nadi. More than 30 people have been arrested by police in relation to the action and a planned protest this weekend. 1 May 2019

Workers from the Fiji Water Authority stage a protest in Nadi. More than 30 people have been arrested by police in relation to the action and a planned protest this weekend. 1 May 2019 Photo: Fiji Trades Union Congress

Fiji's National Union of Workers is unhappy with the outcome of Thursday's Employment Tribunal hearing with the government.

The shut out of hundreds of workers at the Water Authority of Fiji was a focal point of protests that erupted on Wednesday in Nadi.

Police cracked down on the protests and arrested 30 union leaders, including the head of the Fiji Trade Union Council, Felex Anthony, who, along with much of the management of the NUW remains in custody .

The Lautoka tribunal was an emergency hearing initiated by the NUW at which it lost all four orders challenging the actions of the Water Authority.

The tribunal made it clear that when a contract ends, that that employee is no longer authorised to enter the employer's premises.

The union's lawyer, Mark Anthony, said a motion it had applied to the tribunal to restrain the Water Authority of Fiji from issuing the termination notices to the workers on May 1 was not heard until yesterday in Lautoka.

"They are not too pleased at the moment. The union had filed a motion anticipating that we'd be heard before 1st so that we could get those restraining orders against the employer. However, there was some delays. Upon going to hearings yesterday, the employers had already given out all the termination notices," he said.

Mr Anthony, who is the son of detained union leader Felix Anthony, said he hopes his father is released today.

Felix Anthony

Felix Anthony Photo: RNZ

On Tuesday both parties are to meet in an Arbitration Court sitting, while they will both return to the tribunal on Wednesday where the union is expected to notify that the workers understand the ruling that has been made.

At Thursday's hearing, Andrew See, called on the government to ensure that the workers who had their contracts terminated on April 30 are priority in a recruitment drive currently underway.

Magistrate See said it is important information was made clear to the individual workers as to the reasons they were out of work.

Mark Anthony said he had applied for orders from the court before May 1 to restrain the Authority from handing out termination letters.

The tribunal heard that the Authority had advertised for 1500 workers to begin under new contracts in August this year.

It also heard that 547 workers had applied, leaving the door open for 953 workers to be re-engaged.

The NUW earlier claimed that 2300 project workers had had their contracts terminated.

But the Authority's legal counsel Devanesh Sharma said the actual figure was about 2075.

While the Fiji union movement has been forced to drop plans for the protest action today and on Saturday it felt the exercise had still been a success.

Central to the protests was a government move to end tripartite talks with the unions to resolve myriad worker issues, including the minimum wage and limits on striking.

The deputy secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Council, Attar Singh, said, despite the protests having to be cancelled, the international backing they have garnered made the effort worthwhile.

All of this has drawn a lot of media attention to our issues and I a think this would be a matter of serious concern for the government of Fiji and that it needs to do something - sit down and start fixing the industrial relaltions infrastructure that we have in place, Mr Singh said.

Meanwhile, Fiji's Coalition on Human Rights has strongly condemned this week's arrests of trade unionists and said it stands in solidarity with the workers of Fiji.

The coalition chair, Nalini Singh, said workers and unionists should not be victimised or penalised for freely expressing their freedom of association and voicing employment issues.

Ms Singh said it is shocking and disgraceful that instead of celebrating International Workers' Rights Day, on May 1, it was marked with the detainment of workers and unionists.

She called it a blatant attack on workers' rights, which curtails the progress Fiji has made in human rights and democracy.