Unionists protest Fiji airport lock-out

Fiji airport staff celebrate their victory.

About 50 representatives of Australian unions rallied outside the Consulate of Fiji in North Sydney on January 18 to protest the lock-out of 200 airport workers at Nadi International Airport in Fiji. The workers, including baggage handlers, check-in staff and caterers, had been locked out by the management of Air Terminal Services (ATS) since December 16.

The workers had attended an emergency meeting of shareholders over alleged mismanagement and appalling conditions, including sexual harassment and staff driven into poverty because of an 11-year pay freeze. They returned to work to find they had been locked out by ATS.

In a victory for the workers, the Fijian Employment Relations Tribunal ordered on January 20 the return of all ATS employees illegally locked out for more than a month. It also ordered all pay and entitlements from the time of the lockout be restored.

Speakers at the rally, which was sponsored by the International Transport Federation (ITF), included Mich-elle Myers from the Maritime Union of Australia; NSW secretary of the Transport Workers Union Tony Sheldon; and ACTU President Ged Kearney. A letter from Australian union representatives was read out, and then presented to consular staff by Kearney on behalf of the protesters.

The protest follows a march by thousands of workers and supporters in Nadi on January 15 calling for the ATS lock-out to be lifted, and for a fair wage rise for the aviation workers.

National secretary of the Federated Airlines Staff Association (FASA) Vilikesa Naulumatua said: “We fought this dispute on behalf of all the workers in Fiji who can’t stand up for themselves. We wanted to show them the power of standing strong in the face of attacks by management and the government. Our members are overwhelmed with emotion that justice has been delivered.”

“We are thankful to the ITF for leading the global solidarity which drew international attention to the treatment of aviation workers in Fiji.”

ITF president Paddy Crumlin said: “Justice has prevailed for 220 workers and their families, who stood up to defend their basic rights. It demonstrates the power of global solidarity and goes to show that when workers and unions stand together, they can prevail.

“We pay respect to the ATS workers — their union FASA and the FTUC — and would also like to thank the wider Asia Pacific trade union movement and our affiliates, for backing these workers and standing up for justice, decent pay and conditions for all working men and women.”

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