Travel around the islands is just one of the many challenges facing the only private sector union in the Solomon Islands, the Workers Union of Solomon Islands (WUSI), which has struggled for recognition by the sector. So transport and pay for two organisers were key items UnionAID funded to ensure the union could continue to do its job during the pandemic. Although the Solomons were Covid free, the impact of government restrictions on movement in and out of the country saw many businesses scaled down significantly; often those who were laid off were union members. It was critical that workers, including those who were made redundant, laid off, retired or furloughed had access to advice about their labour rights.
WUSI organisers and staff met with hundreds of members at twenty-two different worksites – from Honiara, Guadacanal, Gizo and Malaita to the Western Provinces, including workers on forest plantations on Kolombangara island. They took up many grievances such as failure to be paid the minimum wage (NZ$1.50) or for overtime; job losses; and employers’ noncompliance with employment agreements. Outcomes of most cases are pending but the union’s outreach has resulted in an increase of 490 fee-paying members.