ATS staff have been bullied, harassed, suppressed and ill-treated by the company’s government dominated Board since 2009 despite being shareholders.
“ATS which began as a model of worker co-ownership of enterprises, has become a dictatorship operation under a government that has openly professed itself to be hostile to trade unions” says Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.
Mr Chaudhry, a former unionist, said the concept of worker ownership was an innovative experiment in industrial democracy, set up in September 1981 under the auspices of Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, although the initial idea had come from the workers themselves.
“The concept worked extremely well for decades with the workers given due respect as part-owners of the organisation. But this government is hell-bent on wrecking its partnership concept. Workers who own 49% of ATS, have been treated as mere employees and denied any say in the running of the company.
“They have not received a single pay rise since 2009 and their grievances have been contemptuously ignored by the management over the years. When they took a strike mandate to have their grievances addressed, it was declared illegal by the Minister for Labour and Industrial Relations.
The latest crisis was sparked off by another high-handed response from management which resorted to locking out some 60 staff who had attended a shareholders’ meeting.
The move was totally unwarranted, and no doubt, seen by the workers as yet another act of provocation by an arrogant management headed by Attorney General Khaiyum’s brother Riaz Khaiyum whose appointment as chair of the ATS Board has been questioned by the employees.
To make matters worse, chairman Khaiyum is now calling on the locked-out workers to apologise for their absence from work, if they want to be allowed back to work.
We call on Riaz Khaiyum to resign from his nepotistic appointment. The Board and management of ATS should then get to the negotiating table, listen to the grievances of the staff and resolve the current crisis in an amicable manner.
The arrogant, high-handed approach that the government members of the Board have adopted will only make matters worse. And it will deteriorate further if the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) provides solidarity support, as promised. Other local unions will no doubt join in.
“Fiji Labour Party fully supports ATS workers in their demand for justice and fair treatment. We are fully behind you,” says Mr Chaudhry.