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