East Timorese employees of Timor Aviation Services (TAS) entered the second week of their strike against the Australia-owned air services company after talks failed to resolve a long standing industrial dispute triggered by the summary dismissal of two company workers.
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. Employees at Timor Aviation Services have continued their strike action, in accordance with article 51 of the East Timor Constitution and the Labour Code.
During talks between the directors of TAS and Harvey World Travel from Darwin, the Union and the Government, the Department of Labour and Solidarity again instructed Mr. Tony Penna, one of the owners and managers of Timor Aviation Services, to comply with East Timor’s Constitution and immediately reinstate the two sacked workers. This follows the company’s failure to provide any evidence to support their case for summary dismissal. The company, which is not registered in either East Timor or Australia, again refused to comply. The Union, with the support of the Trade Union Confederation of East Timor (TLTUC), has vowed to continue their strike until the company abides by the laws of East Timor and the conventions of the ILO.
According to Mr 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.”
In further developments this week, Mr. Mick Killick, the International Transport Federation (ITF) coordinator for East Timor who was observing the strike when arrested by UN police, has been released from UN custody when prosecutors failed to provide sufficient evidence to justify his detention.
The UN has declined to drop all charges and the matter is continuing while Killick recovers from injuries received when detained.
TLTUC and East Timorese legal representatives are collecting Statements from independent witnesses present at the Airport on Sunday the 5th of October, the third day of strike action and the day Mr. Killick was seized.
According to Mr. Zitu da Costa, the President of the Timor Leste Trade Union Confederation, “the actions of the UN Police have violated the rights and the freedom of workers and union members to express their rights as written in the Labor Code and the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, and the UN Police have intervened in industrial matters outside of their jurisdiction.”
Mr. Da Costa is further concerned that the UN Police have not operated in an impartial and independent manner and believe their actions appear to be in support of the management of Timor Aviation Services. “The East Timor Police (PNTL) were monitoring the industrial action at the airport for the two days prior to Mick’s arrest, and were satisfied that the strike was orderly and consistent with East Timor’s laws,” he said.
Timor Aviation Services has contracts to provide customs clearance and handling services to the UN, Harvey World Travel, the Australian Defense Force and charter companies serving numerous Australian oil, gas and mining companies.
In a retrospective attempt to control damage to their reputation in East Timor, the UN this week released a statement attempting to justify their actions. According to Mr. Zitu da Costa, their press release “is not based on the truth and does not make sense. The Confederation is concerned that this is the beginning of a ‘trial by media’ where the presumption of innocence and the rights of workers is forgotten”.
The Union and Timor Aviation Services management have been in protracted negotiations for a collective agreement for almost 6 months.
In the midst of bargaining for a collective agreement, in August 2003, Timor Aviation Services, co-owned by Tony Penna of Darwin and the Directors of Harvey World Travel in Darwin,, won a new contract from the UN for ground handling. As a result of this new contract the Mr. Tony Penna demanded that employees being work at 5.30 am without compensation. The workers tried to negotiate some extra payment for these hours but the company refused. As a result, the workers didn’t unload an unscheduled plane and Mr. Penna, as the Managing Director, fired the two workers who were the leaders and workplace delegates of the Maritime and Transport Union of East Timor.
Since the beginning of the Dispute in August of this year, the company has consistently refused to implement suggestions made by the mediator and has ignored the advice of the Department of Labour and Solidarity.
After at least two mediation processes through the Department of Labor and Solidarity, and based on the Labor Code of Timor-Leste, the Department suggested the company reinstate the two workers who were fired because the company had no strong evidence for dismissal.
The company refusal to reinstate the workers left the workers no other choice but to exercise their right to strike. The Union compiled with a request from the Department of Labour and Solidarity to provide ten days notice of strike action and on Friday 3 October, started the peaceful strike at the Dili International Airport.
Entering the Third day of the peaceful strike, in the morning at seven thirty, suddenly, a UN Police officer using excessive force arrested and handcuffed Mr. Mick Killick, the ITF coordinator for East Timor. No East Timorese protesters were arrested.
After 2 hours and still handcuffed he was then taken to the Comoro Police station, then he was put in the cell at Dili District Police, Kaikoli and detained for 56 hrs.
On the advice of the East Timor Police (PNTL), witnesses proceeded to Dili District Police to give statements. The UN Police officer on duty informed these witnesses that their statements were not required.
A preliminary hearing has been conducted, but the UN Police investigators were not able to provide sufficient evidence for his continued detention. The prosecutor requested that the UN Police release Mr Killick on the 7th of October pending further hearing of the matter. The United Nations has so far declined to drop all charges against Mr. Killick.