A delegation, from the National Union of Workers (NUW) in Australia, held a public meeting yesterday in Port Vila, to conclude a week-long visit to Vanuatu, that has seen Australian Union Officials led by NUW Organizer, George Robertson, met with workers, agents, the Labour Department Officials and community and religious leaders interested and involved in the Seasonal Workers Program (SWP).
The NUW is the trade union in Australia working to protect the right of ni-Vanuatu and other seasonal workers while they are working in Australia.
In October 2015, the NUW of Australia signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Vanuatu National Workers Union (VNWU) to work together to educate workers about their workplace rights and advocate for improvements in the Program that benefit workers.
NUW National Organizer, George Robertson, outlined that “the purpose of this very productive visit to Vanuatu has been to develop relationships with key stakeholders in the program to ensure they understand the work the NUW is doing on the ground for workers in Australia, and to identify ways to work together to improve conditions for seasonal workers.”
Robertson pointed this out during a press conference yesterday morning that was also attended by ni-Vanuatu workers who have already worked in Australia and many others that went to learn more about important issues to take note of from the discussions.
The delegation of the NUW of Australia comes after alleged, several widely reported cases, of the alleged exploitation of ni-Vanuatu and other Seasonal Workers in the past 12 months, according to George Robertson.
It was alleged that the cases involved workers being systematically underpaid- or not paid at all during their time working in Australia, among other problems, said Robertson.
Meetings with various Program stakeholders throughout the week, has confirmed that, there are several areas of shared concern, particularly in; lack of knowledge of workplace rights in Australia, and how through trade union membership, workers are able to ensure their rights are enforced
This includes underpayment of wages and concerns with piece-rate arrangements that fail to ensure workers are able to earn a fair and legal wage, accommodation and transportation issues, including concerns that some workers are being overcharged, made to pay above the market rate, superannuation, and the difficulties workers face claiming or receiving their entitlements, meaning hundreds of thousands of dollars are being left behind in Australia.
“It’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure that the regulations put in place to protect workers on the Program are fully implemented,” said Robertson.
“In particular, it is crucial that workers are introduced to the union, understand that it is their right to join the union and through trade union membership that workers have the ability to enforce their rights, and address problems when they arise,” said Robertson.
“Moving forward, the NUW looks forward to coordinating closely with the Labour Department and other stakeholders to work to proactively prevent worker exploitation by empowering workers to enforce their workplace rights,” Robertson added.
He said anyone who wants more information about the program, the National Union of Workers, or their workplace rights in Australia, is encouraged to contact the Vanuatu National Workers Union (VNWU) office in Port Vila.
During the closing remarks of the conference, MP Ephraim Kalsakau, revealed that only 10% of all workers in different employment undertakings in Vanuatu join the VNWU but the rest which is a high percent have not come forward to subscribe to be member in order to receive the protection of the VNWU.