Kongresu most democratic Viva KSTL!
Chris White reports on the 4th Konfederasaun Sindikato Timor Leste Congress 27th and 28th February 2013 Dili Timor Leste.
“Our Congress result is very good. Every leader of every union says it is important to strengthen the KSTL.” Jose da Conceicao da Costa, known as Zito, elected General Secretary.
“The new KSTL democratic organisation is important, a very good change.” Almerio Villa-Nova, elected Vice General Secretary.
Banners are hung over Dili streets heralding the International Conference Post-2015 Development Agenda to Eradicate Poverty with 255 international politicians from fifty countries. As well, Minister Martin Ferguson is here on s457 visas and oil/gas negotiations (Business Timor 3 March 2013).
But I head to the 4th National Union Congress, the KSTL (same as the ACTU), that as well, we argue is critical to eradicating poverty and strengthening the new nation.
(This is my report only and I take responsibility for errors as I do not speak Tetum. This summary is of the results and does not capture the dynamism, vigour, good will and humour of union delegates. For those readers who are new to Timor Leste, see references at the end and my earlier reports).
Democracy in unions when members and union delegates vote for leaders and debate and decide union policies is not often acknowledged.
Member run unions goes to the core of unionism and our survival and growth.
In these terms, Timor-Leste unions and the KSTL have a good future.
We witness continuous debate and speeches and lengthy election processes from the delegates. Democratic input from delegates takes considerable time. After exhausting debates and voting for the new officers, the Congress finishes on 8pm the second night without time to decide some policy resolutions that are referred to the incoming new executive.
Delegate debate is evident early on the first day when all positions are declared vacant and the first task is the election of the Chair of the Congress proceedings that has five candidates and ended in a tied vote with those two then agreeing who Chairs. Then getting agreement on the process only of how the debate on the clauses of the KSTL Constitution and the election the next day has many speakers with strong speeches. Vigorous debate and voting on new clauses for the Constitution takes time as does the elections.
The one paid full time officer is the General Secretary and Zito, who has been full time President since the beginning in 2000, is returned overwhelmingly – see the new Executive below.
Indeed a most democratic Congress.
The KSTL banner themes and KSTL President Zito in his introductory speech focuses on “Dezenvolve Timor-Leste Hametin Soberania-Servisu Ho Direitu” “Develop Timor-Leste, Strengthening Sovereignty, Work with Rights.”
Zito: “Importantly KSTL assists not only unions and workers’ rights and interests, but works hard for the success and stability of industrial relations to develop our new state and for strengthening our independence. These three themes are different and linked. I ask delegates to develop these themes. Still many challenges face us for the new Timor-Leste and what we do as unions is to contribute our positions on workers interests and for all citizens. To do this we have to work for unity and solidarity.”
Unlike Australia, PM Xanana Gusmao’s government, Fretilin Alkatiri’s opposition and all political parties support union development and workers’ rights in their new Labour Code based on ILO principles (stronger than our Fair Work Act) and increases in the minimum wage – in 2012 US$115 per month – that contributes to living standards and the local economy.
Snr Ilidio Ximenes the Secretary of State for Professional Training and Employment gives the government’s welcome to union delegates and his commitment to “strengthen unions” is reported in the Timor Post (report and photo here http://www.sepfope.blogspot.com.au/ in Tetum).
175 union delegates are registered and 155 are able to attend. The numbers of delegates are less than three years ago because of difficulties of attending for two days and the KSTL has less capacity for costs of the hire of the venue and catering for morning/afternoon tea. There is not enough finance for a delegates’ dinner at the end of the Congress.
Delegates are from the SJT-TL General Workers Union with Secretary Almerio Villa-Nova; the Teachers Union with Secretary Francisco da Costa Fernandes; the Maritime Transport Energy Union with Secretary Paulino da Costa; the Construction Union with Secretary Tito Geronimo; the Nurses Union with Secretary Bernardo Amaral do Rosario; the Public Service Union with Secretary Ramalho da Costa and the Agricultural Union with Secretary Joa Cabral.
After the Catholic blessing, one minute silence for those who passed away the founder of the KSTL and former militant union leaders, the singing of the national anthem, the traditional warrior dancing (see photo), the Chair Bernardo Amaral do Rosario welcome to the Government Ministers and International guests (see below), Zito’s introductory themes stresses the importance of all workers to come together.
“First I start by saying that we celebrate KSTL’s 12th anniversary year of existence. 12 years for a young union movement is like a young person 12 years old. Workers becoming unionists understand some union issues and KSTL assists but still we have more years to learn to be stronger. During the 12 years, the KSTL does much to assist the formation of new unions, lobbying for and achieving new workplace rights in the Labour Code and develop an understanding and learning about how to participate in industrial relations.”
“What is most important is the unity and solidarity of unions. This is easy to say, but with difficulties to build the capacity, difficulties educating workers on what a union does and how to act for solidarity.”
Then Rigoberto (Rigo) Monteiro former Secretary gives the executive report. Then the activity report of the last 4 years, the organising report and finance report raises issues for debate.
The “planning programme is outlined, new union organising areas, new challenges; how to educate workers on being in a union; how to have unity; how to do dispute resolution and collective bargaining and the right to strike; how to have stronger unions; to have effective militancy; how to educate workers on their rights in the Labor Code started in 2004 and in 2012 where the KSTL had amendments. These KSTL programmes have short term and long term objectives.”
Under the new Constitution the majority of clauses are new. The processes have accountability and transparency, particularly on finances. After much debate, the new KSTL Constitution has a new National structure. New Vice-General Secretary 1 Almerio Villa-Nova says this “new KSTL democratic organisation is important, a very good change”.
Without going into the details, from an earlier National Executive of three, the President, Secretary and Treasurer, the new structure is:
1. The Council of the Members that has the KSTL President and two delegates from each union, meeting every three months on issues;
2. The Council of the National Executive;
3. The Council of Auditors – a system of auditing affiliates and the KSTL every three months with auditors report as Zito stresses “improved financial accountability and transparency is important” (auditors are not yet elected as the Congress runs out of time);
4. The Council of Women.
These new bodies will decide on strategic plans.
I now deal with one issue identified as important: how can the unions exist financially and reduce dependence on union aid from overseas, such as APHEDA.
Zito: “Our capacity to exist: the delegates have a commitment to work hard to pay membership dues of US$1 per month but say the difficulties in getting these paid to the union organisation. So workers are willing to pay but the mechanism of how to pay takes some debate, e.g. some workers come to the union office to pay, but it may well be that transport to the union office costs US$1. Every union they have autonomy and it is different, so that the Public Service workers can have their salary into their bank account, so the union has to work out their union dues deducted from each Ministry and department and have an agreement with the bank to be paid into the union account, so they can negotiate and work through a check-off system. After they collect the worker dues, the union can pay their KSTL affiliation fees. But the private sector is difficult. Only some have arranged with the company to collect US$1 per month dues into the union bank account; with other companies it is difficult, but mostly we debate how unions are working to arrange how they can with the bank collect union dues.”
In the new KSTL Constitution, new procedures of affiliation, new sectors agreed, improve coordination of KSTL etc.
Government speakers: Sr Mariano Assanami Secretary of State for Agricultural speaks for an hour on the government plans – not to take over agriculture but assist in having the majority of subsistence farmers to own and work on their land. If the private sector wants to evolve they can but how to modernise the agricultural sector, e.g. machinery, tractors, improved irrigation etc and to improve the quality of basic food (most is still imported).
Sr Nino Pereira Minister for Cooperatives speaks of the government’s plans to develop the cooperatives production. He promises to meet with and work with the Agriculture Workers Union
The President of the Public Service Commission Liborio Pereira speaks on how they were to improve services to the public.
The Secretary of State for Social Security Snr Victor da Costa responds to union claims and thanks KSTL for assistance in developing a TL Social Security system and again gives a commitment for legislation and implementation. This includes:
I. Social security for workers is most important. Injured workers have rights in the Labour Code but the workers compensation scheme is being developed and yet to be institutionalised.
The KSTL has been campaigning since 2004 and is consulted with employers to continue discussion to implement one national workplace accident system and pension system for all private/public sector workers and not just some government workers.
Initially, whether an injured worker is compensated depended on the union and employer consultation, that often does not work and vulnerable workers suffer. Social Security is a priority for the new executive to negotiate the details and ensure coverage for private sector workers. The government has to establish effective institutions for employers to meet their obligations.
2. In the 2012 Labour Code workers have OHS rights. But much work is yet to be done to develop the Government’s OHS inspectorate to enforce workers rights and see that employers obey.
3. Social Security means as well the establishment of the pension for all current workers to have money put into a tripartite managed Fund and a system so they pay for the new coming generation of workers retiring. Again only some civil servants get a pension.
Other priorities are:
4. The Labour Code has obligations on inspectors to ensure employers follow labour laws, but the government needs to make enforcement effective. KSTL argues how to do this well. Some inspectors are more objective and fair, but others are too close to employers. A few companies in breach are now being fined, but others are not.
5. Another important issue is the development of the minimum wage. In 2012 it is US$115 in tripartite decision now every two years. Long meetings are required to convince the government how to calculate the minimum wage. Timor Leste has problems with inflation of above 10%, money in the system, imported inflation and from the $US dollar that TL was forced to adopt.
6. Zito: “The question of jobs is the highest priority and those who have jobs have to act responsibly for the development of TL, what can they contribute. The key issue is those who do not have jobs.”
The KSTL argues that the “government has the obligation to have the policy to create jobs as many problems persist with 60% unemployed young people with social problems, how to implement skills training that the government promises and to ensure that employers deliver on their responsibility for training and skills.Job security is a priority.”
The voting package process has some complexities not dealt with here such as the processes of working through issues of nominating women and the necessity for a second round of ballots. This took a long time and is democracy.
Outcome of the elections:
President Augistino Soares from the Teachers Union;
General Secretary Jose da Conceicao da Costa;
Vice-President 1 Ramalho da Costa Public Sector Union;
Vice President 2 Bernardo Amaral Teachers Union;
Vice General Secretary 1 Almerio Vila Nova General Workers Union;
Vice General Secretary 2 Maria de Gloria Teachers Union;
Treasurer Henita Beta Asa General Workers Union.
For those who know the KSTL history, former Secretary Rigo and his ticket is defeated. Representatives from the Construction Union and Maritime Transport Energy Union combined do not succeed against the others in alliance. This is democracy. As elsewhere the public sector and general unions predominate over the private sector unions.
Zito thanks me for bringing ACTU President Ged Kearney’s welcome. Elisabeth de Araujo APHEDA Dili presents this (see below).
Zito thanks me for my sharp points in my speech on the right to strike and duties of unions (see below).
‘The police intervened as a strategy to stop the strike action. This prohibits workers to organise a strike and is against our right to strike. The Government and the police have become accomplices and protectors for employers, especially foreign companies. The government has neither addressed the issue of police violence nor taken action against exploitative employers.’ Zito.
Unions NT Secretary Alan Paton (Hopper) gives solidarity and commitment to OHS training.
“Safety is paramount in all workplaces and in the home.Training in OH&S is the first step in having a safe workplace.
Unions NT are assisting three East Timorese being trained in OH&S at the present time to implement safety systems in workplaces.
The next step in this process is to now start OH&S training in the electrical industry where there is far to many accidents electrical shocks and electrocutions.
Unions NT and the Electrical Trades Union through the KSTL will be seeking meetings with Timor Leste Ministers in the near future to discuss electrical safety and how best to train people at EDTL is the first instance then in the construction industry.”
Hopper hands out to all unions Australian union T-shirts.
Jo Lin (APHEDA Sydney) and Elisabeth de Araujo (APHEDA Dili) represents APHEDA and speak of their continuing commitment to KSTL. Elisabeth re-iterates the urging of Peter Jennings Executive Director of APHEDA at the 2009 Congress.
“APHEDA along with Australian workers and unions are committed to a long-term solidarity relationship with KSTL. APHEDA is pleased to continue funding for as long as KSTL and individual unions need that support. But in order for workers to own their unions and their confederation, they must be able to pay more union dues. These dues can begin to make the Timorese union movement more self-reliant. This move to self-reliance has begun, with SJT-TL General Workers Union now paying affiliation fees to KSTL and workers in some unions contributing from their low wages. APHEDA also congratulates KSTL for your Congress and congratulates the delegates for their active participation.”
We are impressed by the Norwegian unions international solidarity. They specifically provide union training and assistance from the oil sector Industri Energi-Noruega. International guests Age Baerheim, ITF Offshore Inspector, Norway, Ole Kristian Paulsen Industri Energi-Norway give solidarity.
Mark Davis ITF (International Transport Federation) Oceania, NZ and Brent, ITF Asia, Bali have been instrumental in assisting the Timor Leste Maritime Union and give commitment for continuing international solidarity against the multinational shipping companies and the development of transport and energy workers. Solidarity as well from BWI Building Workers International.
Here are Ged Kearney’s solidarity greetings.
“I am sorry I cannot be in Dili to attend your Congress in person, however I wish to convey a message of solidarity from Australian unions to our sisters and brothers in Timor-Leste.
It is with considerable pride that we have watched the union movement grow and gain strength in Timor-Leste since 2001. We know it is a hard process in a nation that faces many economic, political and social challenges, and is still emerging from many years of conflict.
But I commend you on your resolve and commitment to the cause of unionism and the working people of Timor-Leste. The importance of a strong and united union movement cannot be overstated.
The working people of Timor-Leste look to you, the KSTL, to be their voice and to fight on their behalf to ensure their interests are looked after as your nation’s economy grows.
Australian unions and the ACTU, largely through our overseas aid arm, APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad, have a long and proud history of support for the working people of Timor-Leste during the independence struggle and since.
You can count on us for continued support.
The themes of your Congress – job security, job creation and social security – are ones that are common to unions around the globe.
From Australia we have watched with interest the progress of Timor-Leste since joining the ILO in 2003, which has begun a process of reform of labour legislation to bring the nation into line with international standards.
It is important to ensure that workers, through unions, are active in the development of legislation so it addresses their needs. But the lesson from Australia is that alongside legislative reform must be an organising strategy.
As a developing nation, you face many economic challenges, none more so than high unemployment – especially among young people – and poverty.
Where we can, Australian unions will help you to maximise opportunities from infrastructure and resource projects, particularly your significant oil and gas reserves, supporting local jobs providing services to those projects, and addressing the specific needs of women so they can benefit from employment opportunities.
Invested responsibly, revenue from your natural resources can be used to address those challenges and ensure that economic development is sustainable, and the benefits of growth are spread equitably.
It is up to unions to argue for investment in basic social protections that are a human right, and an efficient way of reducing inequality.
Once again, I am sorry that I am unable to attend your Congress, but wish you well in your discussions and planning.
Thank you to Zito for inviting me. Thanks to those working hard for this Congress to be a success. You can be proud as union delegates. As delegates from your unions you make decisions on what the KSTL is to do. This is union democracy. I wish you well in your strategic plans.
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.
Workers have a right to join a union, to organise, rights to collective bargaining and to use the strike for your interests.
I am a strong supporter of the right to strike for workers.
In your Timor Leste Constitution is a right to strike.
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. (Read the three parts http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/11/sjt-tl-and-the-right-to-strike-part-one/)
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 Gusmao government to ensure the police do not intervene in your strikes and threaten the workers.
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 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. 1. Education of workers of what a union does.
2. How to build unionism and make the union strong.
3. How to do union agitation.
4. Solidarity with all workers and their unions.
You are not alone. Unions overseas have and will continue to give support. Your problems are the same problems workers face everywhere under capitalism. Unions fight to end exploitation and to assist the needs of all people. May Day is all over the world.
I have four more lessons for all unions around the world.
1. Union Organising means Winning
When workers in a union win disputes, then the union is stronger. Person-to-person explaining unionism is the basics – and is better than the internet.
2. Unions have to be Bold
Unionists have to take a brave stand. Do not be afraid. Give your union voice on the social needs. Criticize employers who have a negative impact for your union members. Many rules are unjust and against workers. 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.
4. Hold Politicians Accountable
I support the KSTL being independent from a political party.
Unions have to make politicians and in government do what they promise.
Union demands on government are for people’s needs – workers rights, jobs for the unemployed, job security, skills development and social security.
Congratulations to you on your Congress. Long live the KSTL!
My history is I was educated at the University of Adelaide in political science and law. I am a supporter of the Timorese resistance for indepemndence. Then I worked as a union advocate for 30 years. First for workers the same as the SJT – the Miscellaneous Workers Union, now United Voice.
Then I was elected to the United Trades and Labour Council of South Australia for 17 years – the UTLC of SA is similar to the KSTL, but in the State of South Australia. I am Secretary APHEDA NT. I was here in Timor Leste at the SJT Congress last year, TL’s 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary elections as an International Observer, at the Fretilin Congress and with APHEDA in 2011. I am still a Union Troublemaker. I live in Darwin.
Timor Leste references
On oil and gas background
Australia holding back East Timor http://www.laohamutukinstitute.org/article/detail/16/
My earlier report on gas, literacy and health http://chriswhiteonline.org/2011/11/timor-leste-gas-literacy-health/
My 2011 APHEDA report
My report on the General Workers Union 2nd Congress http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/10/sindikatu-jeral-trabalhadores-timor-leste-2nd-congress/
My report on the General Workers Union and the right to strike parts one, two, and three. In part one is an introduction to the KSTL http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/11/sjt-tl-and-the-right-to-strike-part-one/
Timor Leste Presidential elections http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/05/ruak-timor-leste-president/ and
On Balibo http://chriswhiteonline.org/2009/08/balibo/
On Fretilin http://chriswhiteonline.org/2011/09/fretilin-here-to-stay/
The debate on unemployment http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/11/unemployment-timor-leste/
For an excellent analysis of Timor Leste see La’o Hamutuk http://www.laohamutuk.org
See ETAN daily reports http://www.etan.org/