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You are the weakest link’

Monday 24 February 2020 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Outer Islands

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Allegations of conflicting political agendas fly in tit-for-tat row over dismissal of six Pukapuka workers.

Letters dismissing six island government workers spell out detailed failings, including laziness, backchat, threatening behaviour and verbal abuse.

Pukapuka-Nassau Island executive officer Pia Ravarua said he had been on the verge of dismissing some of the group for the past four years.

Those working on the Pukapuka airport terminal construction had just ignored their boss’s directions. He said: “They’re just sitting around in the shade swatting flies most of the time.”

The opposition Democratic Party has alleged the six were sacked because they were members of the Demos, at the direction of visiting government MP Tingika Elikana.

Elikana has rejected the allegation he influenced the island executive officer, blaming “bad politics” for the furore. “The powers to fire an employee island staff is vested in the executive officer … one can assume that if he has taken that step, it’s a serious step.”

Some of the Pukapuka workers have laid wrongful dismissal complaints with Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas.

“My office is still inquiring and gathering more information on the complaints,” Thomas said. “It is not appropriate at this stage to say anything until my office receive all the relevant information we need to make any recommendation or decision.”

Ravarua said he had already warned one worker against threatening and verbal abuse, and gave him a final warning in March last year. “You have been reported to me as the weakest link and laziest member of our Infra team.”

But Ravarua also acknowledged political factors in the dismissals. He accused some of the men of allowing their political agenda and affiliations to the Democratic Party to affect their performance of their jobs.

The final straw, he said, was that the group of workers “broke away from our usual island-wide celebrations of the festive season Christmas and New Year”.

Fifty-seven-year old machine operator Ngarima Nooroto has worked on the island since 1983, until receiving a dismissal letter on February 5.

“It is not good for our island, we were getting the jobs done, we finish our jobs, we are all good workers,” he said.

Nooroto believed the decision was made by Ravarua along with MP Tingika Elikana and Mayor Levi Walewaoa.

Elikana had just visited: “When he left this happened, it is political, how can he say it is not, this is dirty work.”

On February 10 another worker, Tere William, received a letter of suspension. He is due back to work on March 9.

He asks: “What is my wrongdoing,what is the real reason?”

“It is only mea rikiriki (petty things), and minor issues dated back to 2016 have been dealt with.”

William agreed he and the others did not show up to the Christmas, New Year and sports celebrations on the islands.

“We didn’t want to go and join them,we wrote a letter saying we didn’t want to take part on the day,” he explained.

“We live here, how are we going to survive and pay our bills, I have a loan to pay for, this is not right.”

Ravarua has defended his course of action. “It’s unfortunate, I felt there was no other option, I was forced to do it.”