Fiji Time: 4:23 AM on Tuesday 23 January

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Locked out

Felix Chaudhary
Sunday, December 17, 2017

FIVE international flights were disrupted yesterday when about 100 Air Terminal Services Fiji Ltd workers at Nadi International Airport left their posts to attend a beneficiaries meeting.

The meeting at 1pm was held to discuss longstanding issues the employees had with the ATS management.

The rift between the two parties escalated when the workers were locked out of the ATS headquarters when they attempted to return to work at 4pm.

The 100 were part of a group of about 200 who attended the Air Terminal Services Employees Trust (ATSET) beneficiaries meeting at Waimalika.

Federated Airlines Staff Association national secretary Vilikesa Naulumatua labelled the action by ATS management as "illegal".

"We will seek legal advice and take this matter to court because this was not a union meeting, it was a meeting of shareholders who own 49 per cent of the company," he said.

"This is a case where the people hired by the owners of the company to run things for them are attempting to lock the owner out — it is nothing short of ridiculous.

"This is an illegal lockout and a lockout can only be applied when there is a strike, and there are conditions to how a lockout can be applied.

"What they have done today (yesterday) demonstrated the management will go to any extent, even breaking the law, to try and stifle the rights of workers to express their grievances."

About 200 ATSET members at the meeting unanimously agreed to a resolution calling for the immediate removal of ATS acting CEO Hare Mani and some members of his management team.

Meeting chairperson Manasa Ratuvuli said ongoing issues at ATS required the immediate removal of Mr Mani.

Human Resources manager Richard Donaldson later informed workers at the gates that those who were rostered to be at work and had attended the beneficiaries meeting were suspended.

"I have here a copy of the Employment Relations Act for you to see on what grounds we have taken this action," he said.

"Please sign this letter and register as this is being investigated, you've got a right to reply, please respond in 48hours and explain why you should not be summarily dismissed and investigation results will be given back to you.

"People have walked off the premises without explanation to the company and the company is taking the matter very seriously.

"All the people who have walked off the job today (yesterday) have been suspended."

Mr Naulumatua responded to Mr Donaldson by saying that as shareholders in the company, nobody would be accepting or signing any stand down letter.

Many workers who attended the beneficiaries meeting spoke to The Fiji Times under the condition of anonymity, and said they were frustrated that cost of living adjustment issues (COLA) had not been resolved in more than a decade.

Staff were also concerned about what they claimed were the influx of people from 'outside' organisations conducting work they were trained to do.

They also questioned the management's decision to give lucrative ground handling business away to competitors.

ATS Acting CEO Hare Mani dismissed their claims and said the company was willing to talk but not with "a gun pointing to our heads."

Fiji Trades Union Congress national secretary and International Trade Union Confederation Asia Pacific president Felix Anthony visited the workers and told them he could not understand why Government had not intervened earlier to address the workers - who were also shareholders - grievances.

He said ATS was formed in 1980 under a unique worker-participation model.

"We have had industrial peace in the airport for more than a decade now only because we had a company where we have worker-participation," he said.

"Prior to that we used to have annual strikes at the airport."

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