13 Jan 2018

Hundreds march in support of Nadi airport workers

10:44 pm on 13 January 2018

Reports from Fiji say at least 2500 people took part in a march today in support of workers at Fiji's main airport.

Up to 200 Air Terminal Services employees say they have been locked out of work since December 16 after the ATS management deemed their attendance at a meeting illegal strike action.

People gather to march in Nadi

People gather to march in Nadi Photo: FTUC

Workers, many in uniform, and their supporters marched through Nadi this morning carrying banners and chanting, ending up at a rally led by union organisers at a school field.

Fiji Trades Union Congress General Secretary Felix Anthony said he hoped those in government had seen the numbers and would come to their senses and do the right thing.

He said they must ensure that the law is upheld.

"Particularly the employment laws and that these workers are allowed to return to work and not be penalised for the mismanagement that occurs at ATS."

FTUC President Daniel Urai said men, women and children from around the region turned out in solidarity with the ATS workers who had been locked out.

"Not only the workers but the people of Fiji, the villagers, the kids, they are in. They are here to show how they are with the workers who are suffering because they have been locked out of their workplace and not because of what the government is saying," Mr Urai said.

"They are not on strike, they are locked out."

Up to 900 people are said to have marched through the streets of Nadi

Workers and their supporters march through the streets of Nadi Photo: FTUC

Workers say there is a history of mistreatment at the company, which is 51 percent owned by the government.

The remaining 49 percent is held by an employees' trust.

Worker concerns include an 11 year pay freeze, allegations of sexual harassment and claims there have been attempts to selling their shares.

The National Secretary of the Federated Airline Staff Association, Vilikesa Naulumatua, told those at the march that there were people on the board, sitting on the 51 percent side of the table, who had been working and colluding with parties outside the company to buy off the shares which belong to the workers.

"Those are very important issues to us because once you buy out the shareholding of the workers of ATS, you effectively also weaken the workers themselves and you weaken their representation."

Mr Naulumatua said when the workers tried to discuss the issues, they were locked out after a meeting and a court injunction was placed on the workers preventing them from taking part in a scheduled strike for which they had provided notice.

He said the workers were not going to take the treatment lying down.

"We are united in this and we will stand up against this kind of tyranny."

ATS Employees Trust spokesperson Manasa Ratuvili told the marchers that last year the trust's elected members had been removed from the ATS board.

Mr Ratuvili said the trust has been trying to raise concerns about the board's conduct for months but instead there were attempts to convince them to sell their shareholding.

"They tried to entice us, saying that if we sell the shares we might get a car each, two cars each, a house each, maybe five houses.

"This 49 percent is not of monetary value to us," he said.

"There is a rich history behind this 49 percent. Our forefathers, our grandfathers, our fathers, our mothers, fought hard for this 49 percent and we are not going to give it up."

Mr Ratuvili said the villagers were as much owners of the company as the trust.

Local media quote Police Chief of Operations Rusiate Tudravu saying more than 2500 people marched and close to two hundred police officers were deployed to monitor the situation.

He said the march was incident free and those taking part abided by the conditions of the permit.

Earlier speakers at the rally reported a headcount of up to 1000 people taking part.

Air Terminal Services was established in September 1981 after formally taking over from Qantas.

The shareholding arrangement has been in place ever since.

On Friday, New Zealand's Council of Trade Unions organised a demonstration outside the Fiji High Commission in Wellington to support the ATS workers.

Nearly 900 people marched in support of ATS workers who claim they were locked out

People march in Nadi in support of ATS workers who claim they were locked out Photo: FTUC

An earlier version of this story said 900 people took part in the march. This figure was based on early comments by march organisers on livestreamed video.


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