12 Jan 2018

NZ unions protest treatment of Fiji airport workers

6:23 pm on 12 January 2018

New Zealand workers are calling on the Fijian High Commissioner to intervene over the treatment of Nadi airport workers.

About 250 have been locked out of their jobs, by employer Air Terminal Services (ATS), since 16 December after they attempted to negotiate a pay-rise and better working conditions.

Today, New Zealand unions including E Tū and the Public Service Association held a protest outside the Fiji High Commission in Wellington, and presented an open letter to High Commissioner Filimone Waqabaca, asking him to speak to the Fijian government on the workers' behalf.

Sam Huggard, Council of Trade Unions secretary

Council of Trade Unions secretary Sam Huggard Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Council of Trade Unions secretary Sam Huggard said the move was to influence change and show support to the airport workers.

"After attending a shareholders' meeting they came back to work to find that they were prevented from returning to their jobs. So it's a pretty serious action by the company and we wanted to make sure they were aware that international workers, as well as their communities, were supporting them.

"The company says the were locked out because they were taking illegal strike action, but from their point of view it was clear they were wanting to collectively start to resolve some of these issues."

Mr Huggard said the workers, who also have a 49 percent stake in the government-controlled company, wanted to negotiate a range of issues.

"The workers have had a number of concerns over the performance of the company over several years, including financial mismanagement issues, the response to sexual harassment complaints and the fact that there's been an 11-year pay freeze.

Union worker shows support to Nadi Airport staff who have been locked out of their jobs in Fiji.

A union worker shows support for Nadi staff. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"Workers [want to have] a voice in the company. They're 49 percent owners of it but haven't had any access to representation on the board of directors or other formal ways of raising some of their concerns or issues, they've sort of been shut out from the management of the company."

Sai Lea Lea, spokesperson for the Wellington branch of Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement

Sai Lea Lea, spokesperson for the Wellington branch of Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement spokesperson Sai Lea Lea, said it was up to the Fijian government to take action.

"What they're doing and standing-off and not doing something to resolve the situation it's not good enough. If they care about the workers, care about people who have families to look after, they need to be much more proactive than they have been because they've been very hands-off and it's very disappointing.

Mr Huggard said it was in the government's interest to get workers back as the tourism industry could be affected due to safety concerns at the airport.

"It's not clear who's staffing it, there's a real concern about security and safety at Nadi airport.

"We've had reports of people wandering around restricted areas through lack of security staff.

"We know that some passengers on airlines have been told to bring their own food, there's been some security breaches at Nadi airport, the damage done to an Air New Zealand flight went undetected so I think when they realise that it's a serious issue when tourism is affected they'll want to move quickly to resolve this."

Mr Huggard said there had not been any real effort from the company to get workers back to the airport since 16 December last year.

"There's been a bit of a stand-off. There's been a couple of attempts at mediation between ATS and the workers themselves but they seem to be going through the motions.

"There hasn't been any real goodwill, I guess, from the government or the government-owned company to try and resolve this."

More than 50 people at the protest signed the open letter that was given to the Fijian High Commissioner.

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