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  Issue No 50 Official Organ of LaborNet 14 April 2000  




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East Timor

Rebuilding From the Nightmare

NSW Attorney General Jeff Shaw travelled to Dili to get a first-hand perspective on the reconstruction work required.


Jeff Shaw

To circle into Dili Airport in a small plane is to appreciate the fundamental beauty of the East Timor island. Dili has a large harbour surrounded by tropically-forested mountains.

To venture into the city is to experience the devastation of its buildings and infrastructure, perpetrated in an inexplicable act of vengeance following the vote for independence on 8 August, 1999.

No newspaper or television account can give adequate preparation for seeing building after building destroyed by the removal of roofs and walls and the burning of public and private structures.

But the people battle on valiantly. Children wave cheerfully at the United Nations vehicles travelling the roads. In circumstances of poverty and high unemployment, morale is remarkably high. The guerrilla/resistance leadership is in strong co-operation with the United Nations Transitional Administration.

Free elections are scheduled near the end of 2001. Preliminary work is being done on a constitution which should allow democracy to flourish.

An embryonic court system is being established with eight East Timorese law graduates appointed to the Dili District Court. Some may think it strange that the UN has applied Indonesian law (subject to some significant deletions based on conflict with international human rights standards), but this is the system that the young judges have learnt, and in a language (Bahasa) with which the people are now familiar.

It's impressive to see idealistic Australians working in the UN administration, including some New South Wales public servants. One officer seconded from the Premier's Department is there now. Another public servant, from the NSW Legal Aid Commission, fluent in Bahasa Indonesian, will arrive soon.

Huge hours and energy are going into the revival of this island community. To visit a major camp of Australian soldiers is to see a genuinely humanitarian project amidst the heat and potential for mosquito-borne disease. Our soldiers are rebuilding roads and other infrastructure as well as playing sport with the locals, and giving tangible support to the nearby schools. Those living in the hot tents adjacent to Dili harbour are rightly proud of the role they are playing.

Schools have been re-opened, but getting the University up and running is, unfortunately, a long way off. I asked a young man working in my modest hotel whether he liked the job. "Yes, but it's not an important job - I'd like to study law as I did for a time in Indonesia," he replied.

He and others should be given a chance. Let's open up some scholarships at Australian Universities for talented young people from East Timor.

Australia is already making available some hospital beds for seriously ill people from this unfortunate island. And the Australian soldiers are enormously respected for their role, demeanour and sensitivity. But we can do more to combat the poverty, disease and deprivation that now afflict our newly independent near neighbour.

Labor relations in Timor

At present, there are really no labour standards laws in place in East Timor.

This is understandable in the context that it was only on 30 August, 1999 that the popular vote in favour of a process of transition to independence under the authority of the United Nations took place. And it was only on 27 November, 1999 that the legislative and executive authority with respect to East Timor was vested in the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

Most of the people of East Timor live a subsistence existence, obtaining a living from growing rice, goats, poultry or fishing. The unemployed rate is something like 80%. Urban employment, particularly in Dili, is picking up with the need for building works and other infrastructure programs.

But the potential for exploitation is rife. Wage rates are frequently about $1A per hour, with employers working 12 hour shifts with no sick pay or leave.

UNTAET is working on some basic labour law standards. International Labour Organisation representatives have been brought in to advise about setting up fair labour standards in a poor, indeed, devastated environment.

These international experts are examining the possibility of:

· minimum wage and conditions standards;

· union recognition

· a mediation/arbitration system.

In the last week, a conference has been held with worker activists and ILO specialists to examine these options.

One activist group, based upon former East Timorese students who were studying in Indonesia has taken up the workers' cause and has been accepted as bargaining agent by various employers. They have, for example, negotiated a better wages/hours deal for workers employed by the company operating the Olympia Hotel (the large vessel in Dili Harbour accommodating UN personnel). And they have had negotiations and correspondence with Multiplex about safety issues on building jobs.

The formation of a number of trade unions is about to be announced as part of May Day celebrations.

In extraordinarily difficult circumstances, progress is being made.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 50 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: The Gospel According To ...
Green Bans legend Jack Mundey looks back on his days in the BLF and the lessons that can be drawn from that experience today,
*  Unions: Spinning at the Casino
In the lead-up to this weekend's historic strike, active LHMU members at Sydney’s Star City Casino have been making their own news.
*  East Timor: Rebuilding From the Nightmare
NSW Attorney General Jeff Shaw travelled to Dili to get a first-hand perspective on the reconstruction work required.
*  History: Internal Democracy and the BLF
How the rank and file team that took over the BLF in the early sixties attempted to devolve power to the grassroots.
*  International: Towards Liberation
Zimbabwe trade unions are at the centre of the democratic struggle going on within the African Nation
*  Republic: The Referendum We Had To Have
Paul Norton finds some hope in last year's resounding defeat of the republic proposition.
*  Work/Time/Life: @work in the e-century
Marian Baird takes stock of how far we’ve come, or not come, in terms of our working life.
*  Review: Rocking the Foundations
Pat Fiske's wonderful documentary on the BLF should be compulsory viewing for anyone in the union movement talking about shifting to an Organising Model.

»  Sock Nazis Spark Casino Strike
»  Grave Fears Over Carr's Funeral Agenda
»  Packer, Pratt to Profit at Unions' Expense
»  Telstra Discrimination: 'Round one' to the Workers
»  Timor Fundraiser a Blast
»  Water workers flood CBD head office
»  Libs Plead for Help on IR
»  Employment National Workers Win CES Conditions
»  Teachers Deal Still Undone
»  Pressure Builds for Compo Pull-Out
»  Pacific Unions Increase Regional Ties
»  Ellis to Give May Day Toast
»  Special Comp: Just Who Are Our Friends?

»  Guest Report
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

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