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Vanuatuan airline workers seek arbitration in labor dispute, 2005
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.