Fiji Sun - - Big Story -

Good af­ter­noon ladies and gen­tle­men. Five Satur­days ago on the 16th of De­cem­ber a num­ber of ATS staff stopped work with­out no­tice, left their place of work and went to at­tend an ATSET meet­ing. Be­cause of their wrong ac­tions they were stood down and given show cause let­ters when they tried to re-com­mence work a few hours later. Their union ad­vised them not to ac­cept their let­ters in­sist­ing that they come back to work with­out any con­se­quences or ac­knowl­edge­ment of their il­le­gal walk­out. To put it sim­ply the staff were wrongly ad­vised not to take any re­spon­si­bil­ity for their il­le­gal walk­out. As a re­spon­si­ble en­tity ATS could not ig­nore this bla­tant dis­re­gard for fun­da­men­tal work rules in­sist­ing that staff couldn’t pre­tend they had done noth­ing wrong by walk­ing off their jobs with­out no­tice. These staff and their union FASA then en­cour­aged other staff who had not walked off their jobs to sup­port them in their strik­ing picket line out­side of the ATS premises. Iron­i­cally ATSET which had called the meet­ing broke its own rules by not only fail­ing to no­tify man­age­ment of the in­tended meet­ing seven days be­fore­hand but it also failed to no­tify its own mem­bers who they had en­cour­aged to sud­denly aban­don their po­si­tions on a busy day at our in­ter­na­tional air­port caus­ing nu­mer­ous prob­lems for all trav­ellers. It should be noted that in the past these same work­ers have at­tended ATSET ben­e­fi­ciary meet­ings with­out any prob­lems sim­ply be­cause they fol­lowed their own ar­ti­cles and gave am­ple no­tice of their in­ten­tion to leave work to at­tend a meet­ing. This pro­ce­dure is some­thing that has been ac­cepted and fa­cil­i­tated by man­age­ment for years. This time around the ac­cepted pro­ce­dure was not fol­lowed. Sub­se­quently the em­ploy­ment min­is­ter de­clared the work­ers ac­tions il­le­gal. A straight­for­ward is­sue. This ladies and gen­tle­men is the sim­ple and un­com­pli­cated chain of events that has led to the sit­u­a­tion to­day.

To sim­plify the is­sue even fur­ther I agreed to meet union of­fi­cials as chair­man a cou­ple of days after the walk­out and of­fered a so­lu­tion to in­vite all strik­ers back to work on the con­di­tion they sign a let­ter drafted by the union that would say the work­ers had made a mis­take by aban­don­ing their work with­out no­tice and would not be ter­mi­nated if they signed the let­ter and came back to work. We in­sisted on this to pro­tect ATS and our in­ter­na­tional gate­way from fur­ther harm.

Duty of man­age­ment

The man­age­ment and the board of ATS are duty bound to act in the best in­ter­est of the com­pany at all times and that is why we in­sisted on this signed let­ter to en­sure that an­other dam­ag­ing and il­le­gal stop work ac­tion did not re­oc­cur in the future. The union of­fi­cials I met agreed to this con­di­tion but a day later changed their mind and wrote to me say­ing they wanted an un­con­di­tional re­turn to work for all the strik­ers. To put it sim­ply they wanted to pre­tend that an il­le­gal walk out never hap­pened. The walk­out had caught many by sur­prise, even the FTUC’s Fe­lix An­thony who ad­mit­ted he did not know any­thing about it. Nev­er­the­less, this did not stop the FTUC and the sud­den in­flux of hordes of op­por­tunis­tic politi­cians to quickly ex­ploit the sit­u­a­tion and turn it into a po­lit­i­cal cir­cus. It was ap­par­ent that politi­cians seized the perfect op­por­tu­nity to build their po­lit­i­cal cam­paign plat­form dur­ing elec­tion year on the backs of mis­guided ATS strik­ing work­ers.

An un­com­pli­cated mat­ter of an il­le­gal walk­out was rapidly turned into a po­lit­i­cal shenani­gan where all sorts of un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims, false ac­cu­sa­tions, weak, con­cocted and un­founded al­le­ga­tions were made against the man­age­ment of ATS cul­mi­nat­ing in a call for the re­moval of the CEO and Hu­man re­source man­ager.

To shift fo­cus away from the sim­ple is­sue of an il­le­gal walk­out the wa­ters were mud­died even fur­ther with calls by politi­cians and the FTUC for my re­moval as chair­man as well. In fact, the is­sue was ren­dered so con­fus­ing by those tak­ing ad­van­tage of this sim­ple sit­u­a­tion for their own po­lit­i­cal and power gain that the FTUC while call­ing for my re­moval in a re­cent state­ment also called on me to be part of a group that will find a so­lu­tion to this im­passe. An im­passe that re­mains be­cause the unions and politi­cians are en­cour­ag­ing and ad­vis­ing the work­ers not to ad­mit their il­le­gal walk­out.

Union claims

Just last week the FASA sec­re­tary Vili Finau and FTUC’s Fe­lix An­thony em­phat­i­cally ad­mit­ted that they can­not give any guar­an­tee that if the strik­ing work­ers go back to work they will not il­le­gally stop work again dur­ing work­ing hours as they did five Satur­days ago. This is ex­actly the rea­son why ATS man­age­ment wants the strik­ing work­ers to sign the let­ter be­fore re­sum­ing work – an ad­mis­sion of wrong now will re­duce the chances of a re­peat il­le­gal walk­out in the future. Any re­spon­si­ble en­tity any­where in the world would have done some­thing sim­i­lar to pro­tect their in­ter­est against such sud­den and il­le­gal stop work ac­tion that will in this case iron­i­cally af­fect the 49 per cent share­hold­ers of the com­pany as well.

It’s now also quite ap­par­ent that this is the very rea­son why the politi­cians and union­ists are en­cour­ag­ing and ma­nip­u­lat­ing the work­ers not to sign the let­ter be­cause not only do they want to sup­port more il­le­gal walk­outs that will hurt Fiji, its econ­omy and or­di­nary Fi­jians but also be­cause any ad­mis­sion of wrong will ex­pose the unions and politi­cians for the wrong ad­vice and as­sur­ances they have con­tin­ued to give to the strik­ing work­ers. So in essence they are say­ing fur­ther il­le­gal walk­outs are im­mi­nent what­ever the sit­u­a­tion. These sorts of ir­re­spon­si­ble state­ments and il­le­gal ac­tion will dam­age Fiji’s rep­u­ta­tion as a tourist des­ti­na­tion even fur­ther and pos­si­bly lead to fewer tourists mean­ing fewer jobs in the ho­tel in­dus­try. This is quite ironic when the FTUC and others who are cham­pi­oning and en­cour­ag­ing the il­le­gal ac­tions of the strik­ers claim to be the first and fore­most en­ti­ties that pro­tect the jobs of or­di­nary Fi­jian work­ers.

It’s very alarm­ing that the bar­rage of sanc­ti­mo­nious speeches by old school, ta­ble thump­ing, dra­matic B grade act­ing scream­ing union­ists at the march on Satur­day called for virtues such as hon­esty and up­hold­ing of the law. This is sim­ply and ex­actly what ATS has been say­ing from the start – up­hold the law and be hon­est about what hap­pened. Un­for­tu­nately, though the unions and politi­cians won’t let the in­no­cent work­ers say they were mis­led. Be­cause to do this would mean them los­ing the po­lit­i­cal trac­tion they have ma­nip­u­lated out of this is­sue.

A po­lit­i­cal cir­cus

The un­der­ly­ing dy­nam­ics of this so called ATS saga is sim­ply pol­i­tics. If you don’t be­lieve me then just have a lis­ten to speeches at the rally on Satur­day. In­stead of propos­ing to ad­mit the il­le­gal walk­out and get ATS staff back at work ready for ne­go­ti­a­tions, the union­ists ex­cit­edly and glee­fully spoke of the “clos­ing” down of Nadi and the im­mi­nent threat of “clos­ing” down the coun­try next. These scavengers of in­no­cent work­ers spoke of how work­ers should vote in the elec­tions and the need to change the gov­ern­ment and the Prime Min­is­ter. What does this have to do with ATS?

Fe­lix An­thony spoke about the in­jus­tice to ATS work­ers. What in­jus­tice? In fact, we have been es­pe­cially gen­er­ous in wel­com­ing back the work­ers if they sign a sim­ple let­ter say­ing they did not do the right thing by walk­ing off their jobs dur­ing work­ing hours. We have even given an as­sur­ance that none of these work­ers will be ter­mi­nated. That is all. So why is it so dif­fi­cult to do this? In­ci­den­tally the union­ists will tell you that the work­ers have the right to walk off their jobs to at­tend a meet­ing. They are right, if this is done cor­rectly as pointed out ear­lier. But in this case they did not fol­low their own pro­ce­dures of no­tice and that is what made this walk­out il­le­gal. Ask them about this very point and they will try and bam­boo­zle you with ev­ery bit of non­sense they can think of. They will talk of ev­ery­thing ex­cept the fact that they failed to give a seven-day no­tice be­fore the stop work ac­tion.

In the build up to Satur­day’s march that in essence sup­ported an il­le­gal walk­out, three union claims seemed to take promi­nence. The first about COLA not be­ing paid out for sev­eral years. The sec­ond about no pay in­creases. And the third about non-pay­ment of div­i­dends to ATSET. While ATS has been the em­ployer of the choice in the western di­vi­sion be­cause of its su­pe­rior work­ing con­di­tions, we do con­clude that COLA has been an on­go­ing is­sue sim­ply be­cause the unions have not been will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate in good faith with COLA con­di­tions be­ing ac­cepted then re­jected at a later date by the union. The claim about no pay in­creases is an out­right lie with am­ple ev­i­dence of pay in­creases for many staff. And the third claim is not only a bla­tant lie but also re­quires an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the high­est or­der be­cause more than five mil­lion dol­lars of ATS staff money is to­day un­ac­counted for. It was only after ATS clar­i­fied the union claims about lack of div­i­dends since 2005 did the whole coun­try know that some­thing very fishy was go­ing on at ATSET.

Last Fri­day ATSET sec­re­tary, Vili Finau, cat­e­gor­i­cally told the me­dia that the only div­i­dend ATSET had re­ceived for its ben­e­fi­cia­ries was around 556 thou­sand dol­lars re­ceived in 2016. We at ATS deny this and we are still adamant that more than 5.7 mil­lion dol­lars in div­i­dends has been re­ceived by ATSET on be­half of ATSET staff ben­e­fi­cia­ries since 2005.

We have called this press con­fer­ence to fur­nish the me­dia with the rel­e­vant share­holder div­i­dend cer­tifi­cates to prove this. So the ques­tion re­mains, if only around 500 thou­sand was re­ceived by ATSET in 2016, what’s hap­pened to the re­main­ing 5.2 mil­lion dol­lars that was given to ATSET for its ben­e­fi­cia­ries the staff of ATS since 2005?

Where is the money?

The con­tin­ued politi­ci­sa­tion of the ATS is­sue must not dis­tract us from seek­ing pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity. These div­i­dends were for the work­ers who were iron­i­cally march­ing yes­ter­day in protest of better con­di­tions and pay.

It’s shock­ing that even after not be­ing able to ac­count for such a large sum of money ATSET sec­re­tary, Vili Finau, and FASA na­tional sec­re­tary Vi­likesa Naulumatua, are sweep­ing this miss­ing 5.2 mil­lion dol­lar is­sue un­der the car­pet and are re­fus­ing to com­ment fur­ther on this.

What are they afraid of?

What’s even more shock­ing is that the very politi­cians and union­ists such as Fe­lix An­thony who have en­cour­aged and ca­joled strik­ing ATS work­ers to con­tinue with their il­le­gal ac­tions have con­spic­u­ously side-stepped and evaded this is­sue of the miss­ing work­ers’ money. They have not said a word about this. In fact, they very no­tice­ably side stepped the is­sue at Satur­day’s rally as well. This is highly ir­reg­u­lar for a group of peo­ple that have sup­pos­edly been work­ing in the in­ter­est of the strik­ing ATS work­ers since day one.

Why are they not say­ing any­thing? What are they afraid of?

The ATS board will be seek­ing le­gal opin­ion on the pos­si­bil­ity of re­port­ing this mat­ter to FICAC, the Po­lice and call­ing for a na­tional in­quiry through Par­lia­ment. In the mean­time, there is noth­ing stop­ping the work­ers who are the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of ATSET from im­me­di­ately de­mand­ing for a po­lice in­quiry into this most scan­dalous of af­fairs and put to task their of­fi­cials and po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers in or­der to find out what hap­pened to their 5.2 mil­lion dol­lars. They must do so for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. They must right­fully de­mand what is theirs.

And if Mr Vili Finau, Fe­lix An­thony, other con­niv­ing union­ists and the myr­iad of op­por­tunis­tic politi­cians who have used and ma­nip­u­lated ATS work­ers so far can­not call for a prompt in­quiry to find ATSET ben­e­fi­cia­ries their money than they should hang their heads in shame and dis­gust for not pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of the work­ers they are sup­pos­edly sup­port­ing and re­sign from their re­spec­tive posts im­me­di­ately.

Be­low is the full state­ment by the Board Chair­man of Air Ter­mi­nal Ser­vices, Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, on the claims by ATSET sec­re­tary that div­i­dends from 2007 to 2015 had not been paid.

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