Court rules in favour of locked out airport workers
On 8th December 2017, Air Terminal Service (ATS) workers at Nadi Airport were locked out of their places of work after attending a shareholders meeting. ATS workers who collectively own 49 percent of company shares claimed they were frustrated with the way the company was being run. The lockout created an impasse between ATS management and workers' representative, the Federated Airlines Staff Association (FASA). About 200 ATS workers subsequently camped outside the ATS headquarters during the lockout (as shown in the picture above).
Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) National Secretary and International Trade Union Confederation Asia-Pacific President Felix Anthony commented on the situation, stating that:
"This is not a strike. They were locked out when they attempted to return to work. The workers attended a meeting because they were frustrated with the way the company was being run, it is costing them money…as shareholders, they are concerned about the viability of ATS and the on-going mismanagement…There has been no real consultation with workers and workers directors on the board have been sacked by government directors”.
During the dispute, the workers received support and solidarity from other national unions. On 15th January 2018, the FTUC announced it was prepared to hold a national strike rallying all workers' unions if the ATS issue was not resolved soon. Support also came from opposition parliamentarians and unions outside the country.
On 20th January 2018, after nearly five weeks the Employment Relations Tribunal at the Nadi Magistrates Court ruled in favour of the workers. They could return to work with no conditions attached and receive full back pay from 16th December 2017. The magistrate also directed ATS management to issue affected employees new work rosters, security access ID cards, and any other pre-start work requirements within 48 hours.
#Union wins. #Fiji judge rules against the boss orders end to month-long lockout of airport workers https://t.co/hs6S5LRJYH #ausunions #fijinews #fijinow @ITFAPAC @ITFglobalunion #labor #unions #1u #p2 #canlab #UnionStrong @FTUC1 @FijiYouth #atslockout— OzLabourStart (@OzLabourStart) January 20, 2018
On 13th January 2018, thousands of people marched in protest through the streets of Nadi in support of the ATS workers . The march was organized by the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) and managed to garner the support of 32 trade unions in Fiji, workers, supporters and human rights activists. The march, which began from Sigatoka, was led by 66-year-old, Rodwell Campbell, one of the founders of ATS.
The FTUC had faced long delays in obtaining a permit to hold the march through Nadi on 24th February. The permit application was lodged on 21st December 2017; however, despite numerous calls, emails and reminders, as of 17th February the FTUC had not heard from the authorities on whether the application was successful.
Earlier on 23rd October 2017, FTUC members took to the streets to demand the restoration of workers’ rights to collectively bargain, hold a secret ballot, organise a strike and have paid public holidays.
On 11th February 2018, the director of Fijian magazine Islands Business, Netani Rika, was taken from his home by police and interrogated over an online article published in relation to the ATS workers (as described in the sections above). Rika was subsequently taken in again on 15th February, along with his colleagues Nanise Volau and editor-in-chief Samisoni Pareti, for police interrogation over the same issue. According to Islands Business, the media workers were tipped off about the termination of the magistrate who had presided over the ATS dispute and who had ruled in favour of the workers. Rika, Volau and Pareti were questioned over an alleged breach of Section 15 of the Public Order Act, which states that any person who "maliciously fabricates or knowingly spreads abroad or publishes, whether by writing or by word of mouth or otherwise, any false news or false report tending to create or foster public alarm, public anxiety or disaffection or to result in the detriment of the public" is guilty of an offence.
Fiji's NGO Coalition on Human Rights (NGOCHR) has called on the authorities to respect media freedom and the safety and protection of journalists in the country. NGOCHR chair Nalini Singh said that police interrogations of journalists would only foster a climate of fear and intimidation for the press. She also said that:
"It's important to promote an enabling space for our journalists and media, to prevent self-censorship in the newsrooms and ensure people are being informed of current affairs and issues...the NGOCHR believes that public order and national security can be upheld and protected without undermining the principles of press freedom".
In a separate incident, Fiji Times journalists are facing politically-motivated sedition charges, as reported previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, following a letter that was printed in the vernacular edition of the paper.
On 5th February 2018, Director of Public Prosecutions Lee Burney petitioned to amend criminal charges against the three senior executives of Fiji Times Limited after the court stated that its reading of the criminal charge differed from the translation provided by the prosecution. On 13th February, the defence objected to an amended charge and the case has been adjourned to 1st March.
#FIJI: #UN rights commissioner condemns 'highly worrying' #media curbs @pacmedcentre #pacificmediawatch @RNZPacific @RSF_AsiaPacific @ifjasiapacific #pressfreedom https://t.co/EC7bDGA5Yr pic.twitter.com/1Jd8lgQYdP— David Robie (@DavidRobie) February 13, 2018
On 13 February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein stated that he found the limitations imposed on journalists in Fiji as "highly worrying". His concern includes the stiff penalties placed on both journalists and media organisations under the Media Industry Development (Amendment) Act 2015 that have inhibited investigative journalism and coverage of issues deemed sensitive, which as a result has curtailed the level of pluralism in the media. He called on the government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCRP) and to draw upon the Rabat Plan of Action for guidance when "navigating the delicate lines between permissible speech and speech that may amount to incitement". He declared that:
"Civil and political threats are not a threat to government. On the contrary, opening up the space to argue and debate results in better laws and policies, and Fiji will be stronger and healthier for it".
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made his historic country visit to Fiji from 10th to 12th February 2018.