“Together Fighting for Workers Rights and Interests“
Timor Leste (SJT-TL) General Workers Union 2nd Congress Dili, October 17th 18th 2012.
Report by Chris White

“One hundred and ten 110 delegates members of the SJT-TL and guests attended their Second Congress and debated over two days what they would do in the next four years building their new union.

Working in groups in their four divisions of tourism, commerce, industry and the public service, these unionists gave strong support for Almerio Vila-Nova, their young General Secretary who was key to forming the union in 2008.

Click on photo for Almerio Vila-Nova.

Workers attending are from: Hospitality, hotels, tourism, apartments; service providers including cleaning services, domestic services, security services, L-NGOs and I-NGOs; commerce; restaurants cafes bars and discos; catering; plaza and supermarkets; hair and beauty care; shops in general and construction and electricity shops; printing shops; pharmacy or private health care; automotive and motorbike dealers and repair workshops; small industry manufacturing; Industry or fabric; coffee workers in Timor Coffee; banking and finance; and telecommunications and internet companies.

The Congress is held at a Convent in Comero with good TL food for lunches, and celebration on the conclusion.

After getting the mic. tuned in, prayers and singing of the National Anthem, the Congress begins. The Secretary of State for Policy Employment and Vocational Training, Ilídio Ximenes da Costa, opened the Congress welcoming the delegates. He is the new Minister with Xanana Gusmao returned as PM in the recent Parliamentary elections .

Almerio welcomed all the delegates, resolved to have solidarity nationally and internationally – the SJT is affiliated to the UNI-APRO – took them through the agenda and inspired on union values explaining the reasons for resolutions adopted after speeches.

Greetings are from International guests Matthew Gardiner Secretary of United Voice NT who commits to solidarity and presented an aboriginal painting, a photo of a 1930 rally of Darwin unionists holding a May Day banner with the words ‘An Injury to One is of Concern to All’ and the NT flag. Click on photo for Matthew Gardiner; Elisabeth Apheda Dili translates on the right.

My speech is in the Appendix; from APHEDA and UNI greetings read out.

Almerio and SJT Executive members debated how to organise with their principles of ‘Solidarity, Independent, Democracy, Unity, Responsibility and Equality’ (see in Appendix).

Delegates discussed issues in their divisions and debated changes and adopted:
• rule changes to their Constitution e.g. now a Federation, clarification of the structures, from regions and districts;
• resolved for the union to campaign for the rights and interests of workers in the Labour Code in each company, requiring the task of education of workers;
• encouraged new union delegates to come to union training sessions, for delegates to continue to educate workers about the union;
• new delegates to be consolidated in each workplace;
• delegates role to improve union membership;
• created an annual prize for the best union delegates;
• involve workers for capacity in collective bargaining in their company with rights for improved collective agreements and their role including how to organise and solve disputes;
• four year strategy 2012 to 2016 adopted with 3 month reports of the progress to the National Council and annually to Conference;
• KSTL affiliation continued;
• New rules for the administration of the union.

In April 2012, the SJT had 2253 members with 353 paying dues due to the low wages of the minimum at that time $85 US dollars per month, that had just been increased through tripartite negotiations with KSTL represented in October 2012 to $150 per month, still low as you see (remember the US dollar is TL currency) with the unions pushing a minimum of $250 per month but not succeeding. Delegates affirmed that their employers are now just paying the new minimums.
Congress accepted a new sliding scale of union dues collected by delegates e.g. a salary $200 – $300 a month now pays $1.25.

In the elections, Almerio Vila-Nova is overwhelmingly re-elected (I assisted counting) and a new Executive of 11, 9 new members, with much applause speeches and photos.

Three are women and Almerio wants to promote more under equality and says in the next four years the SJT-TL needs to invest in training more women leaders.

The SJT-TL strives to get many members to march on May Day
Press coverage included TV – private, radio and print.

The leadership of other unions strongly supported – Zito KSTL President who spoke on a number of issues in the photo.

KSTL Secretary Rigoberto (Rigo) Monteiro also is at the Congress.

The SJT Counsellor and President for the Congress proceedings is Francisco da Costa Fernandes Secretary of the Teachers Union. He played a major role and as the National Counsellor is to give advice, to assist, and monitor the union to the executive committee.

Elisabeth de Araujo from APHEDA Dili
contributed and translated Matthew Gardiner’s and my speeches.

She was with Jessica Sequiera from the Working Womens Centre TL campaigning for the rights of women workers and with a new campaign for establishing the rights of domestic workers – excluded from the Labour Code.
Also active at the Congress was Tito Geromino Secretary of the Construction Workers Union; Secretary of the Maritime, Energy and Transport Union; from the Nurses Union, from the Public Service Union; a University Student Movement Association representative; the Agriculture Workers Union representative, and others, and greetings e.g. from the Hotel Timor.

The SJT – as well as seeking for members respect from the employer at work, collective bargaining, health and safety etc – campaigns for more jobs, social security, pensions, and to increase the social status of all citizens and a good life with their families.

I urge readers to support the SJT-TL and the KSTL and other unions.
You can best do this by joining APHEDA and by raising money for TL unions.
I urge support in encouraging new TL unionists to continue to come to Australian union training sessions and exchange union experiences. I ask you to join in solidarity web campaigns.

Before booking a particular hotel, I checked the industrial relations supported the union as earlier that management was in a serious collective bargaining dispute and strike that is now resolved, so, when you come to TL, you may like to check your hotel, restaurant etc supports the union and respect these service workers.

I am looking forward to seeing how unionism with the SJT-TL develops.

1. Throughout the Congress Almerio, Zito and the leaders urged the following – as I cannot speak Tetum, or Portuguese or Indonesian I have taken below from an English translation of an earlier SJT-TL document explaining the union.

‘The principles of SJT-TL is that of “Solidarity, Independent, Democracy, Unity, Responsibility and Equality”.
• Solidarity means that collective sentiment (togetherness), same destiny where shown by the attitudes to help each other in an organization (care ness as a umbrella) one for all or all for one, (to disappear of the egoism attitude and individualism).
• Independent means that union has liberation to decide in a political way of the organization (to determine the policy) and to make a decision without an intervention from outside / from the others (from out side such like management). Union needs to accumulate all members’ aspiration (grass root), Union openly to have controlled from all members. Leader does not have an authority attitude or base on his needs.
• Unity means that together such as a split or broom of split coconut midribs, and workers has a strong position to make a collective negotiation, with a strong unity, workers will not be spare of each other because it will make our position too weak.
• Responsibility means that union has a responsibility for his member, company, nation and the world community.
• Equality means that union to look and to see and to be effective for all people is same, without any discrimination of gender, race, and ethnic, group religions and political ideology.
1. To develop union movement of tourism sector, commerce, industry and public service in a private sector through an organization and structure establishment delegate in a company level, to develop the human capacity to be effective of the process struggle and will represent all workers interested in.
2. To maintain and strengthen unity between workers in tourism sector, commerce, industry and Public Service of the private sector even though to appear and to be largely all the workers sentimental solidarity among competences.
3. To form the executive structure this is compost of the four divisions with the position such like general coordinator base on the division.
4. To give a protection and members defense rights and all interest.
5. To improve condition of the members life and families, to improve the condition of work through the way to make collective negotiation with the company management.
6. To increase productivity of work or to achieve national development.
7. For-bit the industrial relation in harmony in which to create work in quite and to enrich the productivity of work and the prosperity of life for all members.’

2. For SJT-TL Congress: Union Challenges by Chris White.

Thank you to Almerio Vila-Nova General Secretary for inviting me to your Congress. Thank you to all of you.

It is a good for me to be here. It is good for you to be at this Congress.

You can be proud as GWU delegates.

Union delegates make decisions on what to do and this is union democracy. I wish you well in your strategic plans.

You listen to your leaders. Almerio is a good leader. I was here at your Presidential elections. I asked Almerio about many union issues and strikes he led. He told me the stories. We talked about good points, how to win.

I am a strong supporter of the right to strike for workers.

In your Constitution is a right to strike and no lockout from the employer.

I know that your right to strike has restrictions.

Employers have to respect your union rights.

Your right to join a union, your right to organise, your right to collective bargaining and to use the strike for your interests.

Workers’ collectively have more power than one worker alone.

One stick is weak but a bundle tied together is stronger.

Joining together in solidarity.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

The union makes us strong.

I am very concerned about your police when they illegally try to bust up your lawful strikes. Your police are not allowed to be on the side of the employers. Your police are not allowed to intimidate the workers. Your police are not allowed to arrest workers on a lawful strike.

Workers are allowed to peacefully meet and assemble and be on a picket line and citizens are free to join in support.

We ask the Xanana government to ensure the police do not intervene in your strikes and threaten the workers.

I am a strong supporter of all workers’ rights.

Your minimum rights in the Labor Code have to be followed by the employers.

The Secretary of State and the Department of Labour must enforce them.

Zito KSTL and Almerio said to me a “lack of understanding from Timor Leste workers about unions is one of the major problems that unions are facing.”

The government with the unions should educate workers on your union rights and interests.

You have four challenges to assist workers.

1. Education of what a union does.
2. How to build unionism and make stronger your organisation.
3. How to do union agitation.
4. Solidarity with all other workers and their unions.

You are not alone. Unions overseas can give support.
May Day is all over the world.
Your problems are the same problems workers face everywhere under capitalism.
Unions fight to end exploitation and to assist the needs of people.

I have four more lessons for unions around the world.

1. A Fighting Union Takes Organization
The Union wins when we build our organisation.
The Internet is good, but it is not as good as person-to-person talking.

2. Unions have to be Bold
Taking a bold stand builds more support.
Do not be timid to give your union opinion on the social aspects, economic and politics that have a negative impact for your union members.
Many rules are not in our favor and a union is bold to disrupt unjust rules.
It is good to be a Union Troublemaker.

3. Unions do not discriminate – everyone is the union
Unions have to include everyone.
One task is to make sure women workers are in unions.
‘All working men and women are entitled to be equal’ is in your Labor Code. An employer is not allowed to discriminate in any way.
Please read ‘Article 6 Principles of Equality – put in details.

4. Hold Politicians Accountable

Make politicians of every party and in government do what they promise.
Union demands on government are for what is necessary for people’s needs.
I support the GWU and the KSTL being independent from a political party.

My history is I was educated at the University of Adelaide in political science and law. Then I worked as a union advocate for 30 years.
First for workers the same as the GWU – the Miscellaneous Workers Union, now United Voice.
Then I was elected to the United Trades and Labour Council of South Australia for 17 years – UTLC of SA is similar to the KSTL, but in the State of South Australia. I am still a Union Troublemaker and live in Darwin. My blog is

Congratulations to you on your Congress. October 17th 2012.”

From Peter Jennings APHEDA ACTU Union Aid.
‘To all Delegates attending the Sindikatu Jeral Timor Leste.
Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA from Australia extends the warmest and most
sincere greetings and best wishes to the SJT-TL for you Congress.

As delegates attending the Congress, you represent the many workers in Timor
Leste who work in the security, hotel and hospitality and retail industries.
You bring with you their hopes and aspirations, as well as taking back to
them the plans by your union for a better life for these working women and

A Congress is always an important time to look back on progress in recent
years, but also to look forward with plans for the future.

Throughout all your discussions and meetings, please remember that the whole
purpose of the Congress and the reason why your union exists is to improve
the wages, conditions and safety standards of your members.

Wishing you all the best for your Congress, and we at Union Aid Abroad –
APHEDA hope it is successful.’
Regards, Peter Jennings, Executive Officer
Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA

3. Labour Code 2012:

Here are the collective bargaining principles Labour Code 2012;
Article 91. º General Principles
1. Collective bargaining is aimed at the establishment and stabilization of collective labor relations, including regulating:
a) mutual rights and obligations of workers and employers bound by a contract of employment;
b) revision or extension of collective agreement concluded in advance.
2. The right to collective bargaining is guaranteed to all workers and employers, in accordance with the following article.
3. The parties to the collective bargaining process must be observed during the process, the principle of good faith.
4. The parties should respond as soon as possible to the proposals and counterproposals presented during collective bargaining, as well as attend meetings scheduled for this purpose.
5. The shares are subject to a duty of confidentiality regarding information received subject to confidentiality.
6. The parties should consult their constituents on the steps of negotiation and can not use this right to suspend or stop the negotiation process.
Article 92. º
Parties to collective bargaining
1. Are parties to collective bargaining:
a) Trade unions, in accordance with subparagraph a) of Article 80, and they are duly authorized to negotiate on behalf of workers;
b) Employer or employers’ organization, in accordance with subparagraph a) of Article 80, and is authorized to negotiate on behalf of the employer or employers;
2. Employers must allow representatives of the workers who are absent from work during normal hours of operation of the company, without loss of pay, so as to participate in collective bargaining.
Article 93. º
Negotiation process
1. The collective bargaining process begins with the presentation to another part of the proposed establishment or revision of collective agreement.
2. The business proposal must be in writing, be reasoned and contain at least:
a) The name of the applicant organization that endorses;
b) The matters which will focus on the negotiation.
3. The party receiving the proposal for collective bargaining should mark the first meeting within fifteen days following the receção the same.
4. On the day of the meeting must be given the answer by expressing a position on each clause of the proposal, accepting, rejecting or counter-offering.
5. Where a party is not meeting the mark within the specified period in paragraph 3, is the unwillingness of one party or the failure to recognize a union by the employer, or when no agreement is reached, either party may recourse to the Mediation and Conciliation Service requesting the establishment of the mediation process of negotiations.
6. The Mediation and Conciliation Service should start the mediation process and convene a meeting within 48 hours and must complete the process within a maximum of 10 days.
Article 94. º
Collective bargaining agreement
1. The collective agreement must be in writing and cannot contradict the current legislation, except to establish conditions more favorable to workers.
2. The collective agreement must contain at least:
a) The name of parties to celebrate;
b) The occupational category and sector of activity to which it applies;
c) The field covered;
d) The relationship between unions and employers who participated in the collective bargaining process;
e) The form of resolution of conflicts arising from the interpretation of the agreement;
f) The date of celebration and duration of the agreement.
3. The collective agreement must be registered with the competent government agency.
4. The registration of the collective bargaining agreement cannot be refused to obey the provisions of paragraphs. 1 and 2 and if you violate the legal imperative of safeguarding the rights of workers.
5. The expiration of the collective bargaining agreement without further negotiations are required, it automatically renews for the same period.
6. The collective bargaining agreement only binds the parties celebrants.
Article 95. º
Right to strike and lockout
1. The right to strike enjoys State protection, in accordance with the Constitution ( Section 51 says: ‘1. Every worker has the right to resort to strike, the exercise of which shall be regulated by law.
2. The law shall determine the conditions under which services are provided, during a strike, that are necessary for the safety and maintenance of equipment and facilities, as well as minimum services that are necessary to meet essential social needs.
3. Lock-out is prohibited.’)
2. Lockout is prohibited.
3. The right to strike and lockout are subject to specific legislation.
Article 96. º
1. In the procedures for settling labor disputes the parties shall act in accordance with the principle of good faith.
2. The organs responsible for conflict resolution work should follow the principles of impartiality, independence, speed and procedural justice.
Article 97. º
Conflict Resolution
1. The conflicts that arise from individual and collective relationships provided in this law can be resolved by the parties, through conciliation, mediation or arbitration, through the Office of Mediation and Conciliation and Arbitration of Labor Council, notwithstanding the intervention of courts.
2. The individual labor disputes should be mandatory conciliation and mediation before resorting to the courts.
3. Excecionam from the previous paragraph conflicts regarding the illegality of termination by the employer or the worker for cause and termination of the contract based on considerations of market, technological and structural.
4. Within the framework of individual labor disputes, the use of arbitration is voluntary and may result from a request of the parties involved, or at the request of either Party, in which case the other party is notified to declare whether or not it accepts recourse to arbitration.
5. The collective labor conflicts are, upon request of the parties submitted to arbitration by the Board of Arbitration of Labor.”

Note TL collective bargaining is better for workers in some respects than the Fair Work Act.

Further background Timor Leste references

‘The Circle of Silence’ by Shirley Shackleton
‘A personal testimony before, during and after Balibo.’ Shirley Shackleton’s searing portrayal won the prize for her dramatic story the telling of her struggle to get to the truth about her husband journalist killed with four others at Balibo in 1975 by the invading Indonesian troops. Her fight is against the repressive Indonesian military and for the dogged resistance by the East Timorese people for their independence. Her efforts led to the inquest showing the Australian government’s cover-up of the murders. The circle of silence on the Balibo murderers are still unresolved. The criminal inadequacies of Liberal-National and Labor governments and the deliberate pro-Indonesian dictatorship exposed. See Andy Alcock’s review at http:chriswhiteonline

‘Finding Santana’ by Jill Jolliffe (Wakefield Press) 2011.
An exciting adventure story of journalist Jill Jolliffe’s perilous journey in avoiding the Indonesian’s repressive secret police and military to find Comandante Nino Konis Santana, one of East Timor’s honoured guerrilla heroes.

Jill Jolliffe adds to one of her earlier books Balibo – now the film. I read her views on “Psychological Healing As A Prerequisite To Good Governance In East Timor” in the Charles Darwin University publication ‘Democratic Governance in Timor-Leste: Reconciling the Local and the National” edited by David Mearns 2008.

‘Reluctant Saviour: Australia, Indonesia and the independence of East Timor’ (Scribe 2004) by Clinton Fernandes explodes the myth that Howard and Downer took the initiative in the fight for East Timorese self-determination – it is the opposite.

Clinton Fernandes’ new book is a must read: ‘The Independence of East Timor: Multidimensional perspectives – Occupation, Resistance and International Political Activism’, (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2011). This book is a history of the struggle for independence after East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. The occupation, which lasted 24 years, was immediately resisted through guerrilla warfare and clandestine resistance. A continuum of effort between the armed freedom fighters in the mountains, the resilience of urban supporters, and international activism and support eventually brought about liberation in September 1999. Their successful resistance is unique in the history of guerrilla warfare and independence struggles. Equally uncommon was an unexpected weapon in the struggle – a remarkable display of strategic non-violent action. This is first study to integrate all the major factors in East Timor’s independence struggle. The multi-dimensional perspectives addressed in this volume include Indonesian, US and Australian diplomacy; Indonesian military operations and activities against the populace; East Timorese resistance at all social levels; human rights abuses; the issue of oil; and international diplomacy resulting from global solidarity activism.

Shakedown: Australia’s Grab For Timor Oil by Paul Cleary (Allen&Unwin 2007).
‘In 2000 one of the poorest nations on earth began negotiations with Australia over rights to the lucrative oil and gas resources of the Timor Sea. With the revenue from the oil and gas fields, the young democracy of East Timor would have a chance to secure its economic future. If Australia would allow it.
This is the inside story of Australia’s attempts to bully East Timor out of a promising future in the Timor Sea oil dispute. Paul Cleary, in this compelling insight into Australia’s international operations, Cleary exposes the heroes and villains who emerged in a one-hundred-billion-dollar shakedown.’
The Men Who Came Out Of The Ground A Gripping Account of Australia’s First Commando Campaign: Timor 1942 by Paul Cleary ( Hachette 2010)
‘The exciting story of a small force of Australian Special Forces commandos that launched relentless hit and run raids on far superior Japanese forces in East Timor for most of 1942.

Sara Niner “Xanana Leader of the Struggle for Independent Timor-Leste” (2009 Australian Scholarly Publishing) is the political biography of Xanana Gusmao resistance leader for independence and for unifying East Timorese nationalism from his childhood to First president and now PM. This books recounts many details for the first time and is an emotional read as Xanana copes with the Indonesian military genocide and current political traumas. See also Sarah Niner edited “To Resist is to Win The Autobiography of Xanana Gusmao.” (Aurora Books 2000).

For post-independence current debates on Timor-Leste development, read “East Timor Beyond Independence” 2007 edited by Damien Kingsbury and Michael Leach (2007 Monash University Press.)


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