Fiji Time: 9:45 AM on Wednesday 21 February

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Ray of hope

Felix Chaudhary
Wednesday, January 17, 2018

MORE than 200 Air Terminal Services (Fiji) Ltd workers camped outside their Nadi headquarters for the past 31 days could return to work soon.

This after the Employment Relations Tribunal managed to get the two parties to agree that the most pressing issue was the return to work of employees at the earliest possible time.

The tribunal convened a meeting yesterday at the Nadi Magistrates Court after ATS management filed an application for the tribunal to clarify the definition of illegal strike, among other issues.

Resident magistrate Andrew See said other issues of concern could be addressed once all 220 employees returned to work. During the proceedings, Mr See said he was well aware of the ATS saga and warned that actions of both parties over the past 31 days had not been "completely exemplary".

He said the workers' actions in walking off the job suggested that prima facie unlawful industrial action had been taken, but management made the situation worse by suspending workers without pay for 31 days without following established procedures for such actions.

The workers, represented by the Federated Airlines Staff Association, were represented by Kevueli Tunidau, while Noel Tofiga appeared on behalf of the ATS management.

Mr See said there were two main areas of concern: firstly whether the act of workers abandoning their posts could be viewed as misconduct; and secondly whether the company had acted lawfully when it suspended workers without pay for the past 31 days.

Mr See questioned Mr Tofiga on the legal basis and authority the company had acted upon to suspend and not pay workers without forming a disciplinary committee to address the issue first as set out in the ATS-FASA agreement.

"Ultimately, you have to look at the individual circumstances because otherwise it would not be completely fair to each individual," said Mr See.

He said the most important issue to address was "to reconcile issues and get workers back at work as soon as possible" rather than spending a lot of time and effort in arguing whether the action taken by the workers could be defined as a strike or not.

Mr See urged both parties to resolve their issues with urgency because each day that was spent in debate and discussion meant one more day without work for ATS employees.

Mr Tunidau and Mr Tofiga informed Mr See that the only holdup in negotiations between the two parties had been the contents of a letter proposed by management for workers to sign.

Mr Tunidau informed the tribunal that the letters were incriminating and workers would not sign letters for something they were not guilty of.

Mr Tunidau had asked for seven days, but Mr See said he would rather the issue be resolved sooner than later.

In response both lawyers informed the tribunal that a new letter would be drawn up by Saturday, which could open the doors for the employees to return to work.

FASA and ATS management have also made verbal commitments to pave the way for employees and management to resolve issues, and agreement was reached for negotiations on internal issues to be resolved through established processes.

The two parties will meet on Saturday during a special sitting of the Employment Relations Tribunal at the Nadi Magistrates Court at 10am.

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