Economics: Super Seduction
Interview: Bono and Me
Unions: The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit
Technology: From Widgets to Digits
Education: Dumb and Dumber
Health: No Place for the Young
History: The Work-In That Changed a Nation
Review: Dare to Win
Poetry: Labor's Dreaming
The Locker Room
Morals Beat Hasty Retreat
Uncounted Cost Of Asbestos
Voting Farce Expands
I Beg To Differ
Aussie Unions Help Tsunami Victims
When the Asian Tsunami struck on Boxing Day over 600 union activists already in Sri Lanka immediately downed tools. The unionists, from Norwegian People's Aid, were in the area clearing land mines, but quickly turned its manpower, trucks and water tanks over to the emergency effort. Since then their sister organisation, Australia's own Union Aid Abroad APHEDA, has been resourcing the group with some of the more than $1 million raised by Australian unions since then.
But Union Aid Abroad's Peter Jennings is quick to point out while emergency relief and home rebuilding is important, the international community needs to stay focused to help our neighbours rebuild their livelihoods and civil societies. That's why donations to Union Aid Abroad are not only going to providing hammers, saws, cement and corrugated iron sheets but also to fishing boats and nets.
If any good can be said to come of the crisis it can be the possibility of crafting the social infrastructure of affected countries even better than before.
At the best of times, life is not easy for the palm plantation workers and their families who live along the Acehnese West Coast on Indonesia's Sumatra island. In a country with 30 million unemployed, many of these workers are grateful to have work at all, yet conditions are poor by any measure. The official minimum wage has been set at between US$1.60 and $1.80 a day, but companies regularly undercut this level. In recent years the number of casual labourers has increased compared to permanent workers, giving employers more control over setting employment conditions. Often the wives or children of male labourers are compelled to work in order to achieve production targets. Tools, safety equipment and OH&S training are rarely provided, and expenses accrued due to sickness and injury are not covered. Workers and their unions have staged protests and strikes in the region in an attempt to improve conditions, but given that many of the palm plantations are state-owned, the government authorities have largely resisted their demands. Additionally, because of the ongoing civil conflict, many labourers' families have been forced to move out of plantation housing and live in the regional city of Meulaboh.
On December 26 2004, disaster struck the already precarious existence of this community. The earthquake that triggered the tsunami that morning was only 150 kilometres from the Meulaboh district, meaning that the area was one of the worst affected. In the city itself, an estimated 40,000 out of a population of 120,000 were killed, and fishing boats were washed as far as three kilometres inland. Hundreds of palm plantation workers' homes were destroyed, and many of them lost their lives. Even now, a month after this disaster, much clean-up work still remains, and there is significant risk of an outbreak of cholera and tetanus in the area.
Amidst this situation of tragedy and destruction, trade unions and community organisations have been busy helping rebuild lives. Funded in part by Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA, the overseas aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) now has teams of Indonesian volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics in the region providing much needed assistance. The IUF teams, who are amongst only a few relief groups in the area working independently of the Indonesian military, are providing medicine and medical treatment to palm plantation workers and their families, and have also set up a portable water sanitation unit. This work is vital, as very little assistance has thus far flowed to these communities.
Besides the work with the IUF in and around Meulaboh, Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is also assisting tsunami relief efforts in other parts of Aceh and in Sri Lanka. In the city of Banda Aceh, some funds are being channelled through 'WALHI', an umbrella environmental group representing community and human rights networks throughout Indonesia. They have been assisting with food and water distribution, and are working in several camps for internally displaced people.
In Northern Sri Lanka, aid is being delivered through Norwegian People's Aid, the overseas aid arm of the Norwegian trade union movement. After providing emergency relief they are providing relief and helping with reconstruction in badly affected Tamil communities. In Southern and Eastern Sri Lanka, a partnership has been established with local Singhalese trade union networks, who now have thousands of volunteers working in the area. They have been distributing food, water and medicines, and are helping clearing away the debris in preparation for reconstruction work.
With the emergency relief phase of the disaster slowly ending, Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is shifting its emphasis to long-term reconstruction projects in Sri Lanka and Aceh. In the words of ACTU president Sharon Burrow : "Houses and general public infrastructure will need to be rebuilt, jobs and livelihoods re-established as well as the rebuilding of communities and civil society structures. It could take years to restore some regions devastated by the tsunami. This is why long term plans need to be put in place."
To ensure that these long-term projects aims are completed effectively, the executive director of Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA, Peter Jennings, will be visiting Aceh in mid-February. There he will assess the needs of local communities and prepare for a Bahasa-speaking Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA project officer to establish ongoing operations.
Key to these activities has been the overwhelming generosity of the Australian trade union movement. Outstanding contributions include donations of resources and hundreds of thousands of dollars from both the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), as well as a call by the Australian Education Union (AEU) for members to donate half a day's pay to their Tsunami Appeal.
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is committed to funding and managing long-term rehabilitation projects in both Aceh and Sri Lanka. Your ongoing assistance with this objective is needed. Every dollar donated to Union Aid Abroad will be matched by the Federal Government with 20 cents.
To make a financial donation or to find out more information about the Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA Tsunami Rehabilitation Appeal, contact us:
* Ring 1800 888 674 (free call) or (02) 9264.9343 between 8am and 6pm.
* Visit the Union Aid Abroad website
* Mail a cheque or money order to APHEDA, Level 3, 377 Sussex St, Sydney NSW 2000
* Walk into any National Australia Bank. Please specify the APHEDA ą Union Aid Abroad Appeal, BSB Number is 082024 Account Number is 57 877 0001
(Any donation over $2 to APHEDA Overseas Projects is tax deductible. APHEDA's ABN is 76 425 451 089. Authority to Fundraise CFN12752)
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