Union arrests in Timor Leste

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THREE UNION MEMBERS DISMISSED FROM MANDIRI BANK FOR DEFENDING WORKERS’ RIGHTS

Mandiri Bank in Timor-Leste recently dismissed three of its employees for defending workers’ rights. The individuals concerned are Brother Joaquim Gonzaga, Brother Helder do Rego Barreto and Brother Leonardo Bele Bau Amaral. The dismissals were authorised by Mohamad Yani, General Manager of Mandiri Bank, on November 30, 2011 and December 12, 2011. Mandiri Bank is a private bank based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The three dismissed individuals are the leaders of the Mandiri Bank Workers Union, which has had a presence at the bank since 2003. Over eight years at Mandiri Bank, each of the employees contributed exemplary work towards the company’s growth in Timor-Leste. None had received any warnings or reprimands prior to their dismissal.

Brother Joaquim Gonzaga (head of the union’s Advocacy and Networking Department) was dismissed on November 30, 2011 for defending the rights and interests of union members. After his dismissal, Brother Helder Barreto (chairman of the union) made efforts to reach a settlement with the bank, but was dismissed himself, along with Brother Leonardo Amaral (the union’s vice chairman).

The three individuals lodged a complaint to the General Workers Union (SJTL), which covers the banking sector.

In response, SJTL Secretary General Almerio Vila Nova issued a demand to Mandiri Bank management for the three union officials to be reinstated, given that there had been no fair cause for their dismissal. However, Mandiri Bank refused this demand.

Given that the dismissals were arbitrary and contrary to the Constitution and the Labour Act of Timor-Leste, SJTL and the Mandiri Bank Workers Union organised a strike in accordance with the procedure outlined in the national legislation on public protests.

The strike took place on December 19, 2011, and was attended by all 43 members of the Mandiri Bank Workers Union.

However, on the second day of the strike the protesters were forcibly dispersed by the police.

This police intervention occurred after a two hour meeting between Police Commander Longuinhos Monteiro and the General Manager of Mandiri Bank, Mohamad Yani, at the Mandiri Bank offices.

The Peak Union Body of Timor-Leste (KSTL) and SJTL promptly contacted the Parliament and the Secretary of State for Vocational Training and Employment (SEFOPE).

A tripartite mediation was held, led by labour relations officers and the Secretary of State for Vocational Training and Employment, Bendito Freitas.

Unfortunately it became clear that the government sided with Mandiri Bank management, and no settlement was reached during the mediation.

It is KSTL’s opinion that the Government of Timor-Leste, SEFOPE and the police have become accomplices and protectors for employers, especially foreign companies such as Mandiri Bank.

This is far from the only case in which the government of Timor-Leste and the police have acted to protect employers. Police action against legal industrial action in Timor-Leste has occurred several times previously: five times in 2004-2009, and twice in 2011. The government has neither addressed the issue of police violence nor taken action against exploitative employers. Without the government to protect workers’ rights, workers are increasingly subject to unfair and arbitrary treatment by their employers.

In light of the above, KSTL calls for the solidarity of fellow trade unions in demanding:

1. That the management of Mandiri Bank (Mohamed Yani) immediately and unconditionally reinstate the three union officials who were unfairly dismissed.

2. Fairness from the government of Timor-Leste when it is mediating industrial disputes, and that it exhibit respect for workers rights as stipulated in the relevant legislation.

3. An immediate cessation of police intervention in legal labour disputes.

For media inquiries, please contact José da Conceição da Costa
President
Timor-Leste Trade Union Confederation-KSTL
Phone: + 670 7239824, E-mail: zito.kstl@gmail.com

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