The second issue of Solidarity, the newsletter of the Unions Aotearoa International Development Trust, is available below. This issue looks at what happens to the money you donate to UnionAID.
Archive for category: Solidarity, Autumn 2010
A new UnionAID project is currently being piloted in Sri Lanka which seeks to build relationships, and community activity, across ethnic groups who have been divided by the bitter civil war.
UnionAID has forged a new partnership with the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union which has a record of effectiveness in a very difficult environment.
The FTZGSEU has not only successfully organized workers in the Free Trade Zone factories, but has also previously worked with Christian World Service to establish Women’s Centres for the women factory workers, and to build new housing in the wake of the destructive Boxing Day Tsunamai in 2004.
The new project will work with Tamil Hindu and Moslem workers and Singhalese workers and others, to develop an exchange programme so women workers can stay in the homes of fellow workers of a different ethnicity/religion, in another area of the country for several days and to jointly attend seminars and cultural activities.
The objective is to build a network/organisation which would work together in a community development model to address issues, and to jointly advocate as women workers. There will be lectures and group discussions on the issues faced by them as women and sharing of different and similar aspects of their lives.
The UnionAID project in Tamil Nadu is a really good example of life-changing benefits for a relatively modest investment.
A recent evaluation of the project has confirmed that, not only is the project enabling dalit workers to achieve impressive monetary gains, it has also given these traditionally oppressed communities a dignity and respect which they have previously been denied.
The collective strength of more than 30,000 Dalit and tribal workers is achieving impressive results:
- Most importantly, they say, they now have recognition as human beings and workers, after centuries of discrimination and oppression.
- Minimum wages and conditions of employment have been negotiated, in many cases for workers who have been traditionally expected to undertake their work (such as cremating the dead) for no payment and then beg for food.
- Their collective strength has given them the ability to protect their children from being taken for child labour by dominant castes.
- As a group to be reckoned with, union members are now approached by local body candidates to canvass their voting strength, whereas previously they were ignored.
The UnionAID Tamil Nadu project is, for the first time, giving some meaning to fundamental human rights for Dalit and tribal workers. The indicators of this are:
Gender equality and women’s empowerment
Improved women’s access to entitlements under government and union agreements,
strong participation and leadership by women within the union,
a reported reduction in domestic violence from 25-15%
increasing education of girls in Dalit and Tribal families.
Reduction in discrimination against tribal people
Union membership has reduced discrimination and engendered respect from dominant castes.
Reduction in forced or bonded labour
The project work has significantly reduced bonded and forced labour.
Reduction in child labour
Child labour is being reduced mainly because collective power has prevented dominant castes from forcing their children into their homes to provide unpaid domestic labour,
Right to organise and bargain collectively
This right is being exercised through union membership and the collective bargaining which is occurring.
The project is committed to equal pay and the negotiated pay agreements reflect this.
The right to life and security of person
Union membership has given them protection against both violence from “dominant castes” and harassment and violence from the police.
The right to work
Union cooperatives have been established to create and maintain viable employment in the production of products and services where union members have skills.
The right to education
Improvements in pay and work conditions have enabled a greater number of Dalit and Tribal families to send their children to school.
Union identity cards have put a stop to police harassment of cremation workers, according to Allahasami, the Cremation Workers’ Union President. Since joining the Tamil Nadu Labour Union (TNLU) these illiterate workers asked for – and designed themselves – a union membership card.
The cremation workers carry these ID cards at all times as a safeguard against police intimidation and harassment.
At a field meeting with UnionAid Executive Chair Ross Wilson, a crowd of at least fifty workers sheltering from the rain under a spreading banyan tree flourished their ID cards with obvious pride. For them, the card is not only proof of union membership but a concrete symbol of their new status as human beings.
In a country where the majority of Dalit and Tribal workers suffer gross exploitation and discrimination, cremation workers are considered the “most oppressed” of all. Born into the job, these people languish at the bottom of a caste system which imposes a rigid occupational hierarchy on all Hindus. Because they deal with dead bodies, cremation workers are considered dirty and ‘untouchable’. Traditionally they had to beat drums to warn higher caste people of their approach because even their shadows were thought to contaminate anyone they touched.
In spite of their critical importance to the community, rural cremation workers have often not been paid for their labour or for the fuel to burn the bodies. Instead, they had to go from house to house to beg for food and materials.
Today, through the UnionAID project, union organising and collective action has changed the lives of these cremation workers. Those in authority now listen to their demands and treat them with dignity. They are no longer beaten or harassed. They are now paid a small monthly wage by the village council, and they can afford to send their children to school. Like parents everywhere their hopes are that education will give their children the choices and opportunities that they have never had.
UnionAID works in several ways to ensure that every dollar you donate makes the maximum contribution possible to helping workers in developing countries improve lives.
Firstly, we keep our administration costs to an absolute minimum. CTU staff members Sue Windsor and Kay Jones provide financial and admin support services, and other work, including project management is provided by volunteers, including the Executive Chair and representatives of affiliate unions on the Action Committee which meets monthly. The CTU also provides office and support and the Tertiary Education Union kindly allow Stephen Day to do his wonderful design work on this newsletter, our website and other publications.
This means that, at present, every dollar donated goes direct to funding our projects.
Secondly, UnionAID is recognized as a non-governmental international development organisation, and qualifies for co-funding assistance from NZ AID KOHA-PICD programme. This funding support for approved projects can be up to four dollars for every dollar raised by UnionAID.
The KOHA-PICD scheme recognises that NGOs have expertise in working at the grass roots level and fostering self-reliance, and can complement governments’ efforts to help reduce poverty and promote sustainable development.
This means that for every dollar you have donated to help fund our projects in South India and Thailand, the government has added another four dollars!
Thirdly, generous support from unions in the form of foundation grants has also meant that the cost of developing our financial, administration, and project management systems is not drawn from individual donations. We have also been assisted with our organisational capacity building with a grant through the KOHA-PICD programme.
All this means that we must be the most cost-effective development organisation in existence. We are committed to achieving excellence as well and as we grow as an organisation it will be necessary to directly employ a development professional to lead our work.
Late last year I took part in a participatory evaluation of our UnionAID projects in South India and on the Thai-Burma border.
I spent a week with each project and, after meetings and visits with many participating workers, it’s great to be able to assure donors that your contributions are bringing huge benefits to these very vulnerable workers.
In Tamil Nadu the Dalit and tribal workers spoke movingly, and with great pride, about the benefits they have been able to achieve through their union which now has more than 30,000 members, and their gratitude to New Zealand workers for your solidarity.
For these workers and their families, gaining respect as well as monetary gains has been a life-changing experience.
On the Thai-Burma border, in the very difficult conditions for migrant workers in cheap labour sweatshops, the project is bringing knowledge of labour rights and the collective strength to exercise them. Most of these workers are young women and the project is also providing leadership and vocational skills training.
The whole experience made me very proud of what UnionAID has already helped these workers to achieve. And of course our donors should share that pride because we can’t do it without your financial support.
So thanks again for making your commitment. Your money is already making a huge difference to many thousands of some of the most vulnerable workers in the world.
A new Canadian documentary directed by Pierre Mignault and filmed secretly inside Burma showcases the country’s little known networks of resistance movements. It sheds light on the enormous risks taken by ordinary Burmese, and their long struggle to remove the country’s brutal military dictatorship.
Showing in Auckland on Monday 3 May, 8.30pm at Academy Cinema, 44 Lorne St
and in Wellington on Monday 26 April, 8pm at Paramount Cinema, Courtenay Pl.
Tickets are $25. Join us for free drinks at a social hour before the screening
contact firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.
All proceeds to UnionAID