Vanuatuan airline workers seek arbitration in labor dispute, 2005

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Because the last action was a statement of intent, the duration of the campaign extends until the employer agreed to the union's terms approximately one week after the strike.
22 August
29 August
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Port Vila and Luganville
Location Description: 
The two largest cities in Vanuatu.
To reach arbitration with Air Vanuatu over labor concerns.

While this campaign sought simply to reach arbitration, the union's eventual goals in negotiations were to improve their collective bargaining agreement, job security and severance pay conditions.


Following a breakdown in negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement, severance pay, and job security, over 100 employees of Air Vanuatu went on strike on August 22, 2005. Workers in Port Vila and Luganville stopped working at 4:30 am, forcing the small airline to cancel all its domestic and international flights. The workers demanded arbitration of their grievances as a condition for ending the strike.

Almost immediately, Air Vanuatu CEO Terry Kerr contacted the National Workers’ Union (NWU) secretary general, Ephraim Kalsakau, and promised to resume negotiations immediately, provided that strikers return to work. Kalsakau agreed, with the provision that airline shareholders also be present at the meeting with the CEO. This exchange occurred in mid-morning, and all workers resumed their positions by the afternoon.

The Vanuatu Minister of Internal Affairs, George Wells, announced that the strike was illegal, because the union hadn’t given the required “strike notice,” and threatened to take the union to court. In reply, Kalsakau stated that the NWU had submitted a strike notice six months previously, and accused Wells of dishonesty for claiming not to have advance knowledge of the strike.

The day after the strike, NWU members arrived for the scheduled meeting with Terry Kerr and other Air Vanuatu management, but the airline representatives did not show up. Kalsakau accused the airline of not negotiating in good faith, and vowed to explore legal options to punish the airline for breaching the agreement to a meeting. For its part, the airline stated that its board of managers needed to discuss the workers’ concerns amongst themselves before they could meet with the union.

Neither the NWU nor the Minister of Internal Affairs’ threats to pursue legal action came to fruition, and the airline ended up consenting to arbitration approximately one week after the day of the strike, thus fulfilling the strikers’ demands.

Research Notes
Several weeks after this strike, Air Vanuatu fired 26 employees. Though the airline claimed this was simply a cost-cutting measure, the National Workers' Union alleged that unionists were fired in response to the strike. The Union held a series of demonstrations in November to protest these firings. (2)
All sources from the Radio New Zealand International archive, searchable at <>.

"Air Vanuatu workers on strike." Radio New Zealand International, 22 Aug 2005.

"Striking Air Vanuatu workers back on job, negotiations imminent." Radio New Zealand International, 22 Aug 2005.

"Vanuatu Labour Minister declares strike illegal." Radio New Zealand International, 22 Aug 2005.

"Vanuatu meeting aborted to discuss airline strike." Radio New Zealand International, 23 Aug 2005.

"Union defends legality of Air Vanuatu strike." Radio New Zealand International, 23 Aug 2005.

"Vanuatu airport workers in industrial talks with management." Radio New Zealand International, 25 Aug 2005.

"Vanuatu Labour Commissioner welcomes highlighting of industrial legislation." Radio New Zealand International, 25 Aug 2005.

"Air Vanuatu workers expect to go to arbitration with employers from next week." Radio New Zealand International, 26 Aug 2005.

"Air Vanuatu CEO denies targetting unionists in job cuts." Radio New Zealand International, 9 Sept 2005.

"Foreign contractors in Vanuatu under scrutiny after strike - paper." Radio New Zealand International, 12 Sept 2005.

"Vanuatu Workers Union hopeful of reinstatement for 26 Air Vanuatu staff." Radio New Zealand International, 20 Oct 2005.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
William Lawrence, 14/4/2011