FIJI NEWS | NATION

Employment Relations Tribunal Dismisses Union’s Application

This was on the grounds that the COVID-19 pandemic qualified as an Act of God that prevented the employer from providing regular employment to workers.
22 Oct 2021 12:09
Employment Relations Tribunal Dismisses Union’s Application

The Employment Relations Tribunal in Lautoka has dismissed a case between the National Union of Workers and Danam Fiji Pte Limited on October 8.

This was on the grounds that the COVID-19 pandemic qualified as an Act of God that prevented the employer from providing regular employment to workers.

The matter was regarding the non-payment of two weeks’ worth of wages during the 18-day lockdown period in March 2020 to workers who are members of the National Union of Workers.

The case was heard before Magistrate Indula Ratnayake. The National Union of Workers was represented by Felix Anthony while Danam Fiji Pte Limited was represented by Shailend Krishna and Shirani Sonika of Krishna and Co.

Police advised

Magistrate Ratnayake said the employer discontinued its factory operations during the said period after Police advised them to adhere to the ministerial directives and cease operations.

“These restrictions imposed by the ministerial directives appear to be supervening events, which without default of either party, rendered the contractual obligations [1]to provide regular work and pay regular wages to workers, in­capable of being performed,” Magistrate Ratnayake said.

He said the ensuing events had not caused the end of em­ployment relationships between the employer and workers.

He said the employer had called the workers to resume work on 6 April 2020 when factory operations resumed af­ter the lifting of restrictions.

“Available evidence suggests that these workers contin­ued to be employed with the employer without any break in service,” Magistrate Ratnayake said

Contract

The court heard that the annual employment contracts of the workers, entered in December 2019 and January 2020, have continued to be in force after the 18-day lockdown pe­riod ended on April 6, 2020.

Magistrate Ratnayake said the amendment introduced to Section 24 of the Employment Relations Act included a declaration by the World Health Organisation that the pan­demic was an ‘Act of God’.

“I conclude that COVID-19 pandemic remained within the ambit of ‘Act of God’ in sec. 24 when the Prime Minis­ter announced the lockdown of greater Lautoka area on 19 March 2020, and up to 06 April 2020,” he said.

“In the circumstances, the employer is not required un­der Section 24 of ERA to pay regular wages to the workers as agreed under the employment contracts. I dismiss the application of the union.”

Magistrate Ratnayake dismissed the application of the Fiji Union of Workers and ordered the parties to bear the costs.

Danam Fiji Pte Ltd

Danam Fiji Pte Limited lawyer Shailend Krishna said his client’s position was clear and that the lockdown was ini­tiated by operation of law that arose during a pandemic, which was gazetted to be an Act of God and by operation and employer Danam was not required under the ERA to pay regular wages.

“As such the honourable tribunal upheld our argument and dismissed the application by the union,” he added



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