Withdrawal of Court Case Against Union-Busting Turtle Island Resort Raises Eyebrows in Fiji

(above) The National Union of Catering, Hospitality, and Tourism Industries Employees (NUCHTIE) organized a protest at Turtle Island in September 2003. The placards at state, “Turtle Staff Association is a Sell Out of Workers’ Rights and Freedoms”, ” Stop the Rot, Treat Us Fairly”, “Stop the Intimidation and Harassment of the Indigenous Community” and “Richard Give Us Our Constitutional and Basic Rights to Join Free and Independent Unions.”.
On November 7, 2003, the owners of the Turtle Island Resort were to face a Fijian Court in regard to failing to comply with a compulsory recognition order issued by the Ministry of Labour. Workers at the super-luxurious resort island have faced a long struggle to win trade union recognition through the National Union of Catering, Hospitality, and Tourism Industries Employees (NUCHTIE), an IUF affiliate. However, to the surprise of the union, it turns out the Fijian Ministry of Labour has withdrawn the case against Turtle Island. Despite repeated requests for information, the Ministry of Labour has offered no comment or explanation, raising serious concerns about the transparency of decision making within the Ministry. A story carried in the Fijian press detailing this incident appears below. It does not necessarily reflect the policy or views of the IUF and its affiliates.

Case Withdrawal Raises Eyebrows

Fiji Sun
24 November 2003

The withdrawal of a case against Turtle Island Resort owner Richard Evanson is raising a few eyebrows in the hotel industry union who is demanding that the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase should step in and call for an investigation.

The National Union of Hospitality, Catering and Tourism Industries Employees says that there is something ‘fishy about the withdrawal’.

NUCHTIE organised protest, Turtle Island, September 2003.
Union General Secretary Timoci Naivaluwaqa said initially Mr. Evanson was charged by the ministry for not complying with the Compulsory Recognition (No. 3) Order of 2003 and is contrary to section 12(1) and 12(3) of the Trade Unions (Recognition) Act 1998. The order was issued on January 22, 2003, and it came into force on November 7, 2003.ti-protest04

“To date, Mr. Evanson has continued to ignore the Order and the Ministry cannot do anything about it which is a shame, really.”

“The case was set for mention on November 7, 2003, and the Union was advised that the ministry had withdrawn its case, which is of great concern,” Naivaluwaqa said.

He added that the Union had written to the Ministry on November 11 to inquire about the reasons for the withdrawal and today there has been no positive response from the ministry.

The unions strongly believe that there are very strong grounds for a thorough investigation into the withdrawal of this case, the union general secretary added.

“Firstly, the officer in charge of the case had been sent away on an overseas assignment when the case was withdrawn.”

“Secondly, the silence by the ministry to clarify to the union the reasons for the with withdrawal supports the claims by the union that there something fishy about the withdrawal.”

“Whilst the union does not intend to make assumptions to the reasons for the withdrawal, the silence of the ministry could suggest to us the obvious and the union was very optimistic that this case could set a trend whereby employers will respect the rights of workers to freedom of association,” he said.

Mr. Naivaluwaqa revealed that the withdrawal of this case could send the wrong signals to employers and violations of the workers’ rights and freedom would become a continuous area of concern to the trade union movement and that it will be sparking off industrial unrest.

The union has called on the Minister of Labour to stand down from his position if the empowerment entrusted to his ministry to safeguard workers’ rights and freedom cannot be enforced without interference.

“Turtle Island cases of dispute appears to be treated with a lot of differences by the ministry as some of our pending cases; we have been advised the files have gone missing from the ministry except for the Turtle Island cases.”

“Mr. Zinck must remember that if his ministry will continue to lack the empowerment and political will to prosecute employers then he can expect that workers will continue to demonstrate and protest about the violation of their freedom and rights whether it be lawful or otherwise.”

“Workers have reached a stage now where they have decided enough is enough and they are bold enough to stage a protest even though they do not belong to any union.”

“The minister should find this trend more challenging to him rather than to lay the blame solely on trade union leaders.”

“The ministry should shoulder some of the responsibility for the workers’ actions because of their failure to take responsible actions and prosecute the employers who violate the law,” Naivaluwaqa told Fiji Sun, yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Union would now be seeking the assistance of the IUF to pursue the case of the Turtle Island Resort.

Mr. Naivaluwaqa added that it was quite unfortunate that the Union has been compelled to seek international support on the case because of the Government’s inaction and lack of political will to settle the dispute.

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