Strikers retaliate with protest march

30 August 2018, 12:00AM

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First Published: 14th May 1981

Striking public servants and supporters numbering some 10,000 people took to the street on Monday in a protest march retaliating an ultimatum from government to return to work by 4pm the same day or dismissal procedures would be executed. 

Chanting and waving placards saying such slogans as: “Delay of Justice is Injustice,” “Ola i le PSA Solidarity,” “I Don’t Want to Suffer in the Future” and such, the protesters marched peacefully along Beach Road to Vaisigano, back to Sogi in front of WSTEC’s and returned to the reclaimed area. 

There they sat around the rest of the day having meals brought to the place by protesters themselves, playing band music and sometimes dancing. 

The gathering scattered in the evening and it is not clear how many have heeded the government’s ultimatum. 

According to the Public Service Commission (PSC), lists from government departments indicating how many workers returned to work on Monday should be received today. 

At the PSC itself, one girl worker returned to work on Monday. 

But government’s ultimatum was reached in a meeting of the Head of State, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II and Cabinet late last week. 

The ultimatum was that all striking public servants (they are estimated to be more than 3,000) returned to work by 4pm or they would be sacked. 

It also stated that a commission of enquiry to look into the PSA’s request for a wage increase, meanwhile, would start its investigations. 

The government appointed commission of enquiry is made up of an MP and Church leader, Tofilau Eti, manager and businessman, William Keil, former manager of the EPC, Sasa Tevita, Aiono Fuatau, solicitor, Rapi Vaai and PSA Secretary, Tile Laumea.

In a meeting of the PSA on Monday before the start of its protest march, Prime Minister Tupuola Efi’s request to address the meeting was turned down by the PSA executive. 

But in that meeting, the PSA refused to have representative in the commission of inquiry. 

The inquiry is believed to be underway. It is understood though that the recommendations of the commission would be given for Cabinets approval. 

On Tuesday, the PSA’s executive again with the Prime Minister who informed that since the governments advice to return to work was not acted upon, no further negotiations on the dispute would be necessary. 

The PSA executive says they were given the idea that they were all sacked. 

On Tuesday night, a notice by the director of Education, Perefoti Tamati was given over the 2AP advising government teachers to report to the department for talks regarding their return to work. 

Only a “handful” of teachers turned up and it is not clear what has been agreed on in the talks. 

But the striking public servants have accepted that they were now unemployed and some of them have retrieved their belongings from the departments they worked for. 

Meantime, the PSA is believed to be seeking court action to question the legitimacy of its members’ dismissals. 

In its decision calling strikers to work by Monday afternoon, the government indicated it would be granting them special leave under section 13 of the Public Service Regulations 1979. 

Sections 13 reads: “In special circumstances, the commission may grant any employee special leave of absence with or without pay on such terms and conditions as it sees fits.”

Failure of the strikers to return to work would mean that they would have “forfeited office” under section 39 of the Public Service Act 1977, reasoned government. 

Section 39 says that an employee who continues to be “absent without permission for a period of not less than 2 weeks shall be deemed to have forfeited office.”

The PSA dispute is in its seventh week now. 

But Part 2 of section 39 of the PSC Act 1977 states that “if the employee subsequently satisfies the Commission that there was a valid reason for his absence and for his failure to inform the Commission earlier of that reason, the Commission may reinstate the employee; and in such a case the employee shall be deemed not to have forfeited office, but to have been on leave without pay from the Public Service during the period of absence.”

30 August 2018, 12:00AM

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