Ruling on the ATS saga

Fred Wesley | Monday, January 22, 2018
THE Employment Relations Tribunal has made no bones about the importance of its ruling on Saturday in Nadi in the case of the Air Terminal Services workers.
Fred Wesley. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU
Fred Wesley. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

It ordered ATS to allow back all workers stood down or suspended from December 16, 2017 by 1pm today.

Delivering his ruling in a special court sitting in Nadi, Magistrate Andrew See said the orders of the tribunal were not a victory for either ATS management or its workers.

It was "a victory for Fiji employment law, and the need to ensure it is embraced at all times by all stakeholders".

Mr See ordered that the 225 workers be returned to work in accordance with the terms of their employment contract, and on a case by case basis, ATS ensure that the pay and entitlements of each employee were reviewed and where necessary reinstituted, in accordance with the law.

ATS was directed to give effect to the order by issuing affected employees new work rosters, security access ID cards, and any other pre-start work requirements within 48 hours of his ruling.

He called on the workers' representative, the Federated Airlines Staff Association, to comply with the terms of the grievance procedures contained in Article 25B of the Master Agreement.

There was a need to "secure and preserve amity and good relations between the company, the association and employees and to resolve any difference of opinion or dispute between the parties".

Obviously there was a need to decide whether the actions of the ATS workers was a lockout or a strike. After perusing the ATS-FASA Master Agreement during the first sitting, Mr See directed both parties to begin urgent discussion that would facilitate the return to work of employees.

The management, he said, could not lawfully suspend workers without pay because of the disciplinary procedures in place in an agreement between the two parties.

There can be no doubts about the fact that the saga attracted massive attention at home and abroad.

It was in the public interest that the dispute was quickly resolved.

Such events demand attention. They demand an intimate knowledge of relevant processes and systems.

They demand dialogue and diplomacy.

At the end of the day, we must look back at this episode to chart a positive path forward.

It is critically important that the powers that be resolve to put in place measures that will avert any future disruption.

That means embracing change, and accommodating discussion.

The challenge now for all stakeholders is to keep emotions in check, and look ahead with optimism.

Surely such events must never be allowed to happen again.

We acknowledge the tribunal's suggestion that the two parties deal with each other in good faith, with sincerity and honesty, and not mislead or deceive each other.

It is also important to note the acknowledgment of processes that are already in place.

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