CLOSURE THREAT OVER NADI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

By Avinesh Gopal

NADI, Fiji Islands (July 13, 2001 – Fiji Times)---Landowners have threatened to close Nadi International Airport if their demands are not met within seven days.

They want the reinstatement of 12 workers terminated by Airports Fiji Limited about two months ago and fair compensation for use of their 434 acres of land on which the airport sits.

They made a joint representation to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo on Wednesday seeking his intervention to resolve and settle the grievances of the people of Nadrau and FPSA members employed by AFL.

A spokesman for the landowners, Viliame Niumataiwalu, said last night they had sought fair compensation for the commercial use of their land.

Earlier, an historic agreement was reached between the Nadrau, of Saunaka Village in Nadi, and the Fiji Public Service Association, which represents the sacked workers.

"In 1999, the Rabuka government accepted the landowners' claims and, as a result, 17 industrial lots sub-leased to private companies since 1979 were returned to the landowners,'' Mr. Niumataiwalu said.

"The Chaudhry government accepted and endorsed the decision and implemented them by reverting it to Native land. The remaining issues in the claim have yet to be resolved and have taken three years.''

He said since taking over as AFL chief executive in February, Jone Koroitamana sacked 12 workers in disregard of their terms and conditions of employment.

Mr. Niumataiwalu said the dismissals were done despite a Labour Ministry directive (under section 21 of the Health and Safety at Work Act) that the workers could not be sacked.

He said the AFL board was bound by the collective agreement of August 7, 1998, which was adopted on December 21, 1999, adding "they (board) must stop being misled by Mr. Koroitamana.''

Mr. Niumataiwalu said the sacked workers, nine of whom are sole breadwinners in their families, have services ranging from 25 to 35 years and they had not received their pay for the last two months.

"The Government must accept that there are three major parties involved in Nadi airport --State, landowners and the workers,'' he said.

"The smooth and efficient operation of the airport depends on a good relationship among stakeholders.

"Our tourism industry, national security, economy and employment of more than 40,000 people are dependent on the airport.

"We are aware of the importance of the airport to the country's economy, but we believe a solution to our problems is the speedy and peaceful settlement of our grievances.''

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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