Vanuatu Fishermen's Assocation Pickets Parliament Over Outstanding Wages

Government-owned company went bankrupt without paying wages

By Jonas Cullwick

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Nov. 23, 2016) – A group of between 60 and 100 members of Vanuatu Fishermen’s Association and their families and friends held a quiet picket in front of the front gate of Parliament House Tuesday morning.

They demanded Government immediately pay association members their outstanding claim of Vt1.5 billion [US$14 million] in unpaid wages.

The picket started at 6 o’clock in the morning to get the attention of the Government as well as Members of the Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu which is currently in session on its Second Extraordinary session for the year.

The fishermen held banners saying ‘No Goodwill Payment. Payment in Full’, ‘Adhere to the Commission of Inquiry and and Pay Up’, ‘Some fishermen have passed on but their families and many fishermen are still waiting’, and ‘Vanuatu Fishermen’s Association demand Government pay immediately the outstanding claim in full’.

After three hours, the picketers dispersed peacefully after the police were called in the Acting Deputy Commissioner, Willie Samuel, met with the President of the Fishermen’s Association, James Kalati and asked that they disperse as their gathering would be considered an unlawful assembly.

Kalati said the picketers were happy to disperse and move to the office of the Vanuatu National Workers Union because their picket had already serviced its purpose of reminding Government of their concern about the outstanding claim.

The issue has been a longstanding thorn for both Government and the fishermen themselves many of whom have died waiting to be paid their hard-earned pay. The matter was brought before various governments since most of the 36 years of the country’s independence without success.

The Government of Moana Carcasses in 2014 appointed a Commission of Inquiry which reported back that the Government of Vanuatu owed the fishermen outstanding payments and that it pays the outstanding totaling Vt1.5 billion.

The Government of Joe Natuman that succeeded the Carcasses Government decided to pay the fishermen a ‘goodwill payment’ of about Vt60 million [US$561,000] because it said it was not sure about how each fisherman’s amount was put together. But the fishermen continued to refuse the ‘goodwill payment’ offer.

A total of 1130 members of the Vanuatu Fishermen’s Association served on foreign fishing vessels, some for many years, while their pays were paid to South Pacific Fishing Company based at Palekula on Santo, in which the government was a shareholder.

When the company shut down many fishermen returned to find they had no money and are asking government as a shareholder to this day to pay their outstanding salaries.

“I worked for 11 years on two different fishing boats on all the oceans of the world.

“My job was gutting fish and stacking fish in freezers.

“My other job that I was popular for was diving under the bottom of the fishing boat at all times of the day or night and in all kinds of sea conditions, whether warm, freezing, calm or rough and cutting free the ship’s propeller when it became entangled with huge net ropes or strings,” member of the association Robert Arthur says.

He said sometimes he would be down under the boat for up to an hour at a time.

“I returned home and found that I had no salary waiting for me. I’ve been waiting for a long time to be paid my salary and now I am getting old, but I will continue on and hope the Government would soon pay,” he added.

But a senior Government official says there is no money and Government cannot pay when no amount for such payment is in Government’s budget and that Government is still trying to settle the outstanding payments of entitlements for teachers and health workers.

Vanuatu Daily Post
Copyright © 2016 Trading Post Limited. All Rights Reserved

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment