Pol­i­tics Has Blurred Real Is­sues In ATS Dis­pute

What had started as an il­le­gal walk­out has taken on a po­lit­i­cal com­plex­ion and a life of its own. It has spun out of the work­ers’ con­trol into the hands of some trade union­ists and politi­cians, who are cap­i­tal­is­ing on this row to raise their profile.

Fiji Sun - - Comment - by Ne­mani De­laibatiki Edited by Percy Kean

This is an edited ver­sion of Ne­mani De­laibatiki’s My Say in the 4 the Record pro­gramme last night on FBC TV.

The many pos­i­tive things we look for­ward to in 2018 have been tainted by the un­re­solved il­le­gal strike by some ATS work­ers.

It started in De­cem­ber and has spilled over to the New Year.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress-or­gan­ised march on Satur­day has es­ca­lated the dis­pute to a new level.

Po­si­tions have hard­ened.

The strik­ing work­ers are now say­ing through their union reps that they will not re­turn to work if their de­mands are not met.

The ATS man­age­ment wants the work­ers to re­turn as soon as pos­si­ble while an in­de­pen­dent me­di­a­tion is in­sti­tuted to try to re­solve the dis­pute.

What had started as an il­le­gal walk­out has taken on a po­lit­i­cal com­plex­ion and a life of its own.

It has spun out of the work­ers' con­trol into the hands of some trade union­ists and politi­cians, who are cap­i­tal­is­ing on this row to raise their profile.

The poor strik­ers are now be­ing propped up by do­na­tions of food, kava and cash to give them a sense of con­fi­dence and se­cu­rity and to press for­ward with their de­mands. But this help is only tem­po­rary and fails to ad­dress the core is­sues that the strik­ing work­ers are com­plain­ing about. Those who claim to sup­port them and have the work­ers' in­ter­est at heart should say “here's help, here's some food and cash. Go back to work and get your union to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble through me­di­a­tion”. In­stead they are en­cour­ag­ing them to con­tinue their strike.

These is­sues will only be re­solved at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble not at the picket line. The march and the ac­tiv­i­ties at the picket line are just a show and they will not re­solve this dis­pute.

It's all about the trade unions and their po­lit­i­cal co­horts flex­ing their mus­cle at the ex­pense of some of the strik­ing work­ers. ATS board chair­man Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum yes­ter­day set the record straight when he out­lined the se­quence of events since De­cem­ber 16 when ATS staff “stopped work with­out no­tice, left their place of work and went to at­tend an ATSET meet­ing”. They were then stood down and given show cause let­ters when they tried to recom­mence work a few hours later.

But the prob­lem started when the union stepped in and ad­vised the work­ers not to sign the let­ters.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum ex­plained that the staff were wrongly ad­vised not to take any re­spon­si­bil­ity for their il­le­gal walk­out. The union ac­tion was un­ac­cept­able be­cause it en­cour­aged its mem­bers not to fol­low the rules and pro­ce­dures.

It is in con­tra­dic­tion to the prin­ci­ple of ac­count­abil­ity, fair play, the rule of law and trans­parency that it ad­vo­cates.

That's why the Min­is­ter for Em­ploy­ment, Pro­duc­tiv­ity and In­dus­trial Re­la­tions, Jone Usa­mate, de­clared the walk­out il­le­gal. The grounds for that de­ci­sion are pretty clear. This was a very sim­ple dis­pute that could have been re­solved weeks ago.

But it has now be­come clear that the ATS strike is the step­ping stone to a big­ger bat­tle. If you lis­tened to the rhetoric at the rally at the Nadi Dis­trict School ground after the march on Satur­day, it was revealed that the ul­ti­mate goal was to top­ple the Fi­jiFirst gov­ern­ment at this year's gen­eral elec­tion. One would ask what has the ATS dis­pute got to do with try­ing to de­feat the Gov­ern­ment? When the ATS dis­pute is politi­cised, it blurs the real is­sues and com­pli­cates mat­ters. That's the prob­lem.

Photo: Waisea Na­sokia

The Fiji Trades Union Congress march pro­gresses through Nadi Town on Jan­uary 13, 2018.

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