27 Jun 2013

Fiji union goes to court over hardwood mill redundancies

5:35 pm on 27 June 2013

A union representing public service workers in Fiji is going to court over the sudden redundancies of some 200 employees of the Fiji Hardwood Corporation.

The government-owned enterprise made 187 workers redundant on Friday with 30 days leave in lieu of notice and redundancy pay.

The General Secretary of the Public Service Association, Rajeshwar Singh, says employment regulations have been breached.

RAJESHWAR SINGH: These people given redundancy notices on Friday 21 June to go home. But earlier than that, they told us that there is a restructuring. 'We're sending people on leave and as soon as their leave expires they will come back, and we are restructuring'. We were shown a different path. It was a real shock to us. We found out then that the two mills - Wavunu and one in Navutu, Lautoka - will be closed. So then we started looking into the whole thing and we found out that the closure of the two mills was envisaged when the Mahogany Industry Decree was promulgated on 12 March 2010. This decree did not include the Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited as one of the licensed manufacturing agents, and as such the Fiji Hardwood Corporation mill was not able to receive any logs for manufacturing. So this exclusion was planned and deliberately done to force the closure of the two mills.

SALLY ROUND: Is there any indication that they will be taken on under the new restructured company?

RS: First the mills will be put on tender. They'll have to be sold. And the new owners are under no obligation to take these employees.

SR: How easy will it be for those employees to get other work in other industries?

RS: Nil. The chance is nil. This is a social problem.

SR: You say there's been a serious breach of employment regulations.

RS: Exactly.

SR: What is that?

RS: The Employment Regulation Promulgation 207 requires the company to give 30 days notice to our members, to the union and to the Permanent Secretary for Labour. They have not done this. The promulgation further goes on to say the stakeholders will meet to find out how to avoid the redundancy, what else could be done to avoid the redundancy. This process has not taken place. We are now filing a motion to the Employment Relations court that this process was not followed. We are seeking an order from the court that the status quo be maintained. What we're saying is, 'This has been there for the last eight years. You have deliberately done this, planned it. Suddenly you're dropping this bombshell on our employees. Why hasn't this board, or the boards that were there, done something about it? Why didn't they bring in the state-of-the-art machinery? Why didn't they look after what was happening? What did they do to correct the situation at that time?' So suddenly somebody came out of the slumber and said, 'Hey, we are making a loss now. Stop it. Let's sell the mill.' This is our question.