ATS Board Chair Sets the Record Straight

The walk-out and meeting which ended in a strike by some workers of the Air Terminal Services Ltd has been causing a lot of interest here in Fiji and abroad.
02 Jan 2018 11:23
ATS Board Chair Sets the Record Straight
ATS staff at the site at the Nadi International Airport yesterday. Photo: WAISEA NASOKIA

The walk-out and meeting which ended in a strike by some workers of the Air Terminal Services Ltd has been causing a lot of interest here in Fiji and abroad.

Workers who are members of the Air Terminal Services Employees Trust (ATSET) together with Federated Airlines Staff Association (FASA) walked off their jobs two weeks ago. Among the list of complaints and demands, the workers listed were COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustments) and the removal of the CEO and the management of the Nadi International Airport ground handling company.

Fiji Sun had an in-depth interview with Board chairman Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum who addressed various points that have emerged since the strike began.

Fiji Sun: What actually took place?

Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum: This is a simple issue. The workers who are members of ATSET and FASA abandoned their posts and attend a meeting that was not legal in the first place.

ATSET executives did not do right by their members. To hold a meeting as such, they were supposed to issue a seven-day notice to their members and by convention they were to write to management to inform of their intention to hold a meeting. Management will allow this because this is in accordance to regulations.

But they didn’t do that, so in fact they were in the wrong from the very beginning. After their meeting illegally the workers thought they could just return to work, but were stopped because they had done wrong.

We then told them that if they wanted to return they had to write a letter stating they had done wrong in abandoning their posts to go for the meeting and that they will agree to the fact that they will not do this again in the future. They couldn’t come up with a drafted letter so it was done for them and this is the one that those returning have been reading, agreeing to and signing.

Fiji Sun: On those who chose to remain at work?

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: We are very grateful and thankful to those who chose to stay at work and carry the load and cover for those who had gone to the protests.

They did extra shifts to make sure stations were covered and if it weren’t for these faithful workers and those from the airlines who were called in to man the different areas, the airport would have had to shut down operations. And that would have been a sad day for Fiji.

Fiji Sun: On allegations that the ATS Management cared little for the welfare of the workers:

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: The Air Terminal Services Management team and the Board of Directors act in the best interest of all involved in the company. We have always put the workers first. We have always worked to ensure that everything about the workers are catered for. ATS workers are among the most well looked-after employees around Fiji.

This is to clarify the recent media publications on the conditions provided to ATS employees. The highest paid striking full time employee receives an annual salary of over $55,000 while the lowest is paid just under $10,000 per annum.

The following outlines some of the conditions full time workers at ATS receive:

No one at ATS is paid less than a take home pay rate of $4.77 per hour (basic rate of pay and an average of 30 per cent loading for allowances) without overtime.

20 days annual leave per annum with a 10 per cent leave loading allowance;

15 days sick leave per annum;

Employees receive a meal allowance when their hours of work commence or finish between 1730 hours (5.30pm) and 0700 hours (7am);

Overtime meal allowance, the value of which is more than 25 per cent higher than the highest overtime meal allowance under the current Wage Regulation Orders;

Shift allowances of up to 200 per cent of basic rate for shift work;

40 per cent of unused sick leave paid out at the end of each year as a sick leave incentive and the balance is accrued for emergencies;

Eight weeks of long service leave when employees reach 10 years;

Three day paternity leave provision;

ATS workers receive full pay in the case of workplace accidents, not the prescribed two-thirds;

ATS covers all medical treatment and associated costs for workplace injuries;

All trade certified employees receive annual tool allowances;

All full time employees are entitled to an annual gratuity payment of $650; 

Overtime rates at time-and-a-half for the first  two hours with double-time thereafter;

Free transport to and from work when public transport is not available;

Staff not using free transport receive a transport allowance;

Additional allowances are paid for various other activities;    

For the last 11 years annual performance based increments are paid as per agreed pay scales;

Comprehensive outpatient medical cover, including overseas evacuation to New Zealand and Australia, fully funded by the company; and 

$30,000 Term Life cover for all staff, this will increase to $60,000 from 2018.

ATS has even undertaken a Job Evaluation Exercise and was working with the Association to introduce market based rates of pay, with the condition that no pay rates will decrease. The association has rejected this proposal.

This matter is purely an industrial relations matter between the employer and the employees. Politicians and other interested parties involvement is hindering in reaching a resolution.

Fiji Sun: On J.D Singh?

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: J.D Singh was not forthcoming with us from the very beginning. He did not tell us that he was one of the applicants for the position of the chief executive officer when we met as a board. He kept quiet about it the entire time. He didn’t tell us because it would then mean a conflict of interest right there and then. He’s put out a statement (Sunday 31/12) that he fears for his life and will not return to Fiji because he will be arrested.

The Commissioner of Police has even clarified that they are not even looking to do such a thing. In an earlier statement, one of the ATSET Trustees Vili FInau admitted that J.D Singh has been one of the people advising and helping the ATSET workers.

Fiji Sun: On the claims by workers, where are they coming from? Workers are being oppressed? COLA and backpay.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: These claims are not true. Like I said earlier, ATS workers are some of the well looked-after employees. It’s complicated because a lot of things are mixed up but for people to just pull things out and talk about like this doesn’t help.

Fiji Sun: On finding a resolution quickly?

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: This is of utmost priority. We want a resolution reached that will be beneficial to both sides. We are trying to reach this because the longer the workers stay out, the longer they suffer; their families suffer. School is coming up and they need to get children into school.

Fiji Sun: On the political party leaders publicising their visit to the ATS workers?

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: The matters are very clear and simple, but these politicians complicate things and they give false hope, misleading information to the workers who are now being led astray by them. The same goes for the unionists who have been influencing the workers.

Fiji Sun: On the call by the Fiji Trades Union Congress for Government to step in and resolve the issue otherwise a nationwide strike will take place, in support of ATS workers?

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: These guys are always looking to make these types of comments and statements to get them attention. How responsible are they? Are they even patriotic? It’s ironic that they are saying that they are fighting for the rights of the workers yet they are threatening a nationwide stike.

If this happens then that means there will be more people who will be without jobs. That means no money coming into someone’s pocket and family. What message or what are they really doing?

In their statement they are calling for my resignation as the chairman of the ATS Board. Yet in the next few sentences after that, they are calling on the Prime Minister, the ministers involved, the stakeholders and then they call on me as Chairman of the ATS Board to work out a quick solution.

How can they, in one sentence call on me as chairman to resign and then in the next line call on me as chairman to work with others to find a solution. They are clearly confused and they are confusing others.

Fiji Sun: On the claims by National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad on the payments over the damage to the Fiji Airways A330? Isn’t this before the court and sub judice?

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: We have referred the media release by NFP Leader, Hon. Prof. Biman Prasad and the article on the same in the Fiji Times, December 31, 2017, to our Solicitors for their vetting and consequential response. The matter the NFP Leader refers to in detail in his media release dated December 29 entitled Abhorrent Breaches of Companies Act by ATS Board is before the High Court in HBC 117 of 2017. As such ATS is not at liberty to respond to the NFP Leader’s comments because any response could be deemed sub judice.

Fiji Sun: On claims that ATS was operating at a loss:

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: ATS has always been making a profit. We have been declaring dividends since 2006. In 2017, $565, 580.95 was given to ATSET and we posted up on our bulletin board that from that amount, each member of ATSET should have received $1800.

When this was posted up we were asked by ATSET as to why we had done this and that we shouldn’t have posted it up publicly. But why shouldn’t we? Their members need to know what to expect because this is their money.

Fiji Sun: On media coverage of the strike:

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum: Two complaints have been made against The Fiji Times and in particular their reporter in the West Felix Chaudhary who on several occasions sought our comments to statements and reports he had and all occasions when the stories came out they only had the striking workers side of the story and ATS management and the board were left out.

This is not a balanced reporting and it’s not fair. So I have filed a complaint to the Media Industry Development Authority and I understand that the ATS management have also done a separate one because of the same issue.

Edited by Percy Kean

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