African airport workers down tools in St Helena’s first strike

South Africans working on St Helena’s airport have gone on strike, in what is thought to be the first industrial action on the island in half a century.

It is understood they are in dispute over employment terms and conditions.

The upset appears to relate to the pre-fabricated steel huts built to house workers at Bradley’s Camp, close to the airport site on Prosperous Bay Plain.

St Helenian workers were not thought to be involved.

Deon de Jager, Island Director for contractor Basil Read, said: “We can confirm that the SA Workers has downed tools and are refusing to return to work.

“We are treating the matter internally according to Basil Read policies and procedures, and have set up a meeting with the committee to hear and address their grievances.

“At this time we cannot comment further as we do not know what these grievances consist of, or what it entails.

“We will make an official statement at a later stage"

Janet Lawrence, airport project director for St Helena Government, said: “SHG is aware that discussions are taking place between workers at Bradleys Camp and Basil Read management. All staffing

matters are internal to Basil Read.”

It is understood that terms of employment for South African workers are different from those of Saints, because they receive only part of their pay on the island, with the rest paid at home. Saints do not need to be housed at Bradley’s.

Island businessman and historian Nick Thorpe said it was another example of the visiting workers bringing new influences to the island, where strikes were unknown within living memory.

He said: “There was some industrial action in the early 1960s, incited by Fred Ward’s General Workers’ Union, but I am not sure it came to anything.

“However, following the end of the Fishers Valley Dam project there was a march of paid-off contract workers who had left their jobs in the flax mill. There was the assumption in those days that a job was for life – I don’t think they understood contracts

“The South Africans have brought a slice of South Africa with them. Saints can walk away from it all.”

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