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Kagovai to Whiteside:Pack up and go

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UNIONIST Tony Kagovai yesterday told Russell Islands Plantation Limited (RIPEL) general manager John Whiteside to pack up and leave the country.

His call follows a High Court ruling that uphold a Trade Disputes Panel (TDP) award in favour of Solomon Islands National Union of Workers (SINUW) in its case against RIPEL.

In 2004, SINUW pursued with the TDP that the mass removal of RIPEL workers was not right and recommended that all the workers be reinstated and Mr Whiteside be removed.

The TDP award recommended the reinstatement of various employees which RIPEL had dismissed and for the RIPEL board to terminate Mr Whiteside.

But RIPEL filed an appeal in the High Court arguing that the TDP had no jurisdiction to recommend the reinstatement of its workers.

High Court judge Justice Cameron however, yesterday upheld the TDP’s decision.

Mr Kangovai said the ruling means Mr Whiteside, who is from Fiji, must go.

“Our next step is to ensure the recommendation made by the TDP is carried out,” Mr Kangovai told journalists yesterday.

“And that is for Mr Whiteside to pack up and go so that RIPEL can reopen because he is the main hindrance to RIPEL operations,” Mr Kagovai said.

“Firstly we will enforce the decision and if it didn’t work out, we will ask the minister responsible for labour to cancel his permit and remove him from the country,” Mr Kagovai said.

He claimed there are no other legal grounds for them to appeal the decision.

Mr Kagovai said Mr Whiteside is the main hindrance to reopening RIPEL.

“Once he is removed, we will negotiate for the reopening up of RIPEL,” Mr Kangovai said.

RIPEL has huge plantations of cocoa and coconut on Yandina in the Russell Islands. Its operations closed in 2004 when workers staged an industrial action.

When contacted yesterday, Mr Whiteside said it was evident in his previous statements that Mr Kangovai is fighting a personal battle with RIPEL chairman Patrick Wong and the company.

“In 2004, he lost his High Court appeal against a decision made that SINUW must repay damages caused to the company which worth more than $300 million.

“They lost that battle and ask the High Court to set aside the orders.

“He went to Court of Appeal and failed again.

“He’s hoping to get rid of Whiteside, to get the government on his side on that matter.

“As for me, if RIPEL sacks me, the company itself would be in trouble and won’t be reopened as he imagined,” Mr Whiteside said.

He said the High Court decision was just an academic one.

RIPEL Chairman Patrick Wong when contacted said if the Government forcefully removed Mr Whiteside, it will be a “Tortuous Interference”. 

Speaking from Sydney, Australia, he said the TDP award was just a recommendation and not an order.

“The company is not obliged to do it, it is just a recommendation and not an order,” Mr Wong claimed. “

Meanwhile, Mr Wong said the RIPEL directors will need to study the judgment and consider all options.

“Once RIPEL has fully studied the judgment, we will revert with a more detail reply.”