Subject: GLW: UN agency workers go on strike

UN agency workers go on strike

SOURCE: Green Left Weekly - January 24, 2001

Vanya Tanaja, Dili -- Workers at three World Food Program warehouses here took strike action on January 8 and then went to the headquarters of the WFP the next day when the agency took no notice of their protest. WFP is a UN agency in charge of the emergency food relief program.

The 120 workers demanded that they be allowed to work daily, as opposed to four times a month that they are presently doing. They also demanded that their work schedule be clarified and that the employer adhere to Indonesian labour laws, the only labour laws in existence in East Timor at present. The workers receive 35,000 rupiah (A$7) a day for each day that they work.

They claimed that they never signed a contract to work with WFP. In the past the lack of a contract has been used by employers as an easy way to get out of their obligations to their workers. The WFP workers asked the Socialist Party of Timor (PST) to assist them in the dispute and representatives from the party have been involved in negotiations with WFP management and UNTAET.

WFP management maintained that there was insufficient work for the number of workers it took on. It has proposed that 25 workers be employed as day labourers and the rest of the workers be completely laid off with a US$100 severance pay. Further, WFP has intimated that the agency would be forced to discontinue its operations in East Timor, should the industrial action continue. Avelino Coelho, general secretary of the PST and member of the National Council, told Green Left that he would bring the issue before the 34-member National Council to examine WFP's claim that the dispute would force the agency to pull out of East Timor.

Coelho also questioned the claim by WFP that no other employer in Dili paid their workers higher than the current wage level of the strikers and that the wage level had been set by UNTAET. He cited the example of at least one other agency paying wages of US$5 a day for day labourers. He also stated that the wage levels set by UNTAET only pertained to civil servants.

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