As an aid organisation, UnionAID is distinctive for its focus on improving the lives of workers and their families. All projects are developed in partnership with trusted organisations in developing countries, usually unions. In collaboration with unions and workers, local needs and priorities are identified and strategies developed which will impact most effectively to improve working pay and conditions, and encourage economic independence and self-determination.
We have a number of projects in a range of countries:
Pacific Project to help low wage workers in Fiji
With assistance from Laila Harre, who worked at the International Labour Organisation in the Pacific, the opportunity to partner with the Factory and Commercial Workers Union in Fiji has emerged. This union represents workers in shops, light industry, and garment manufacturing. This project will pilot the development of training, promotion and organising resources and systems that extend the reach of union engagement to workers outside the reach of collective bargaining under the Employment Relations Promulgation.
Myanmar Railway Organising Project
Although unions are registering in Myanmar at a rapid rate, most of their leaders are very young and have little knowledge about unions or how to organise effectively. UnionAID is funding a pilot project to assist railway union leaders to recruit and organise as many of the 20,000 Myanmar Railway employees as possible. This project is led by Min Lwin who worked in exile for 24 years in Thailand as the Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB) Human Rights Secretary and is an experienced and gifted trainer. He organises awareness training for rank and file members, with more intensive leadership training for union leaders. Union membership is increasing rapidly as a result.
Mae Sot Occupational Training Centre
Although in the past two years Burma has made significant moves towards democracy, young men and women from Burma continue to stream across the border into Thailand at Mae Sot looking for work. To assist this process and prevent human trafficking, the Federation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (FTUM) has established an occupational training centre to teach industrial sewing skills and Thai labour law. Each year over 300 mainly female migrants have completed the two week training and all have found jobs at factories on the border or in Bangkok, where wages are up to six times higher than in Burma. Learning about labour and human rights gives the workers the opportunity to become self-reliant in their dealings with local employers. Initially funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for two years until February 2013, this project has since been fully funded by UnionAID.
Dalit and Tribal Workers Economic Development Project
Our current project with the Tamil Nadu Labour Union (TNLU) in Madurai, South India, builds on an earlier union organising project with Dalit (untouchable) and Tribal (indigenous) men and women, employed in poorly paid jobs such as scavengers, sweepers, quarry workers, and cremation workers. Now the TNLU is working with union members to establish five worker cooperatives (with over 1000 members) and four micro-enterprises (120 members) to help them achieve economic independence and self-determination.
Training in governance and management is a significant part of this new project as this largely illiterate workforce gains business knowledge and, just as importantly, a sense of pride in their new status. Anecdotal evidence to date suggests that three of the main objectives are being achieved: an increase in income; reduction in household indebtedness and more children attending school. It is expected that these outcomes will be confirmed by data analysis at the end of the project in mid 2014.
This project is funded on a $1 for $1 basis by the Morgan Foundation up to $30,000 each year for 3 years.
Sri Lanka Women’s Project
When the civil war in Sri Lanka ended, garment factories were set up in the north and east of the country to take advantage of the cheap labour and in response to the government’s intention to establish Free Trade Zones there. After a successful organising project in Sri Lanka with the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZGSEU) which saw some factories reach 100% union membership, UnionAID is now funding a second two year project. This will enable the FTZGSEU to organise 1000 women workers in the garment industry; to give a voice to and develop networks of women workers in the northern and Eastern provinces, tea plantations and the free trade zones; and to fight discrimination.