The Guardian October 22, 2003


Australian unions back striking East Timorese workers

Unions West Australia have called on affiliates for financial 
support to assist striking employees of Timor Aviation Services 
(TAS) in East Timor. The strike began on Friday October 3 in 
support of two workers who were dismissed by the company at Dili 
International Airport.

The two workers, who are elected delegates of the Maritime and 
Transport Union of Timor Lorosae (UMTTL), were negotiating a 
collective agreement to improve wages and conditions of TAS 
employees when they were fired.

The union and TAS management had been in protracted negotiations 
for a collective agreement for almost six months.

The company is co-owned by Tony Penna of Darwin and the Directors 
of Harvey World Travel in Darwin. TAS has contracts to provide 
customs clearance and handling services to the UN, Harvey World 
Travel, the Australian Defence Force and charter companies 
serving numerous Australian oil, gas and mining companies. It is 
not registered in either East Timor or Australia.

In the midst of bargaining, in August 2003, it won a new contract 
from the UN for ground handling. Penna then demanded that 
employees being work at 5.30am without compensation.

The workers tried to negotiate some extra payment for these hours 
but the company refused. As a result, they did not unload an 
unscheduled plane and Penna, as the Managing Director, fired the 
two workers.

During negotiations between the directors of TAS and Harvey World 
Travel from Darwin, the Union and the Government, the Department 
of Labour and Solidarity instructed Penna to comply with East 
Timor's Constitution and immediately reinstate the two sacked 
workers after the company failed to provide any evidence to 
support their case for summary dismissal.

The Union, with the support of the Trade Union Confederation of 
East Timor (TLTUC), has vowed to continue its strike until the 
company abides by the laws of East Timor and the conventions of 
the ILO.

According to Sabino Adornia, one of the sacked employees, "East 
Timorese workers can not believe that Australian companies think 
they can come to East Timor and ignore principles of fairness and 
justice. Timor Aviation Services is even disregarding a legal 
directive from our own government."

The company refusal to reinstate the workers left them with no 
other choice but to exercise their right to strike.

On the third day of the peaceful strike, a UN Police officer 
using excessive force arrested and handcuffed the International 
Transport Workers Federation (ITF) co-ordinator for East Timor, 
Mick Killick, who was observing the peaceful strike.

He was released after 56 hours in detention following orders when 
prosecutors at a preliminary hearing failed to provide sufficient 
evidence to justify his detention.

The United Nations has so far declined to drop all charges 
against Mr Killick the hearing is set down for Tuesday October 21 
in Dili.

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Information used in this article was provided by the Trade Union Confederation of East Timor.

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