Protests in Wellington, Fiji and Aus to support Fiji airport workers

By Jessica Tyson

The workers at Nadi Airport who were recently ‘locked out’ of their workplace are receiving support from people around the world, with protests taking place from today in New Zealand, Australia and Fiji.

The first protest will be at 12pm today outside the Fiji High Commission in Wellington.

Protesters aim to support the 250 ground handling workers who have been locked out of their workplace by Fiji Government-controlled Air Terminal Servicessince before Christmas according to Council of Trade Unions secretary Sam Huggard.

Huggard says the workers were locked out after attending an emergency shareholders meeting on December 16 over mismanagement and bad conditions at the company, including sexual harassment and an 11-year pay freeze.

“It’s really serious what’s happened over in Nadi in terms of the lockout.  They’re approaching nearly a month without incomes and support of their family," says Huggard.

“We want to add our voices to an international community and say this needs to resolve very quickly.”

Protesters in Wellington today will be delivering a letter of support for the workers to the Fiji High Commissioner, requesting it to be communicated to the Fiji government.

Huggard says a large rally is planned in Nadi tomorrow and Australian groups are looking at holding a rally in Australia next week.

“What we would want to see is the workers return without any penalisation or punishment.  One of the reasons why they can’t return to the job has been made clear by the employers that if they do there will be disciplinary actions they face.”

Meanwhile, in a statement, ATS says it is offering for workers to return without victimisation if they acknowledged their illegal walkout.

The company also says the workers staying away are on strike, while the workers describe the situation as a lockout.

“A total of 29 employees have now returned having accepted the ATS Chairman’s conditional offer of no termination or victimisation," the statement says.

“It is unfortunate that the Union National Secretary and others acted unlawfully by calling employees to walk off the job and not show up for their rostered shifts in support of those who were initially stood down.  As a result, employees have been absent without leave.  All workers who have either walked out or failed to appear have been stood down.”

Huggard also says 49 percent of the workers own the company.

“It was set up formed in the early eighties but they’ve had no ability to have board representation or access to the decision making channel.  So [workers] need a chance to have their say there to address the issues they’ve got, including having a pay freeze for over 11 years now.”

A petition has started calling on the Fijian government to urgently intervene to protect the ATS workers.