United Workers Union

Jeanette Armstrong, Tim Palmer and Ben Rechstein with two members of the Vanuatu National Workers Union

Jeanette Armstrong, Tim Palmer and Ben Rechstein are representatives of the United Workers Union (UWU) Australia that were in Vanuatu recently to meet with the Vanuatu National Workers Union (VNWU).

UWU is Australia’s newest union after the merger of United Voice Union and National Union of Workers that have more than 150,000 members throughout Australia including ni-Vanuatu and other Pacific seasonal workers.

“This is about building power for workers.

“It’s about forming a brand new Union that will take on challenges that we’re seeing in the 21st century and making sure that workers and members of our union can be at the centre of the political and economic system and make sure they get their fair share of the pie,” she said.

The visit to Vanuatu was to hold discussions with VNWU to ensure seasonal workers in Australia have a voice and power to stop exploitation and ensure workers get benefits that they are entitled to.

Ms Armstrong said the merge is groundbreaking as pacific seasonal workers were involved in the vote.

Tim Palmer says the challenges face in Australia by ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers as well as farm workers all over the world face in Australia are outstanding.

“We see sub-standard accommodation, we see workers being compelled to work under unsafe conditions, we see workers being put on a piece-rate arrangement where the work is tied to their productivity but where they have no real opportunity to earn the Australian minimum wage,” he said.

But he said the good news is that with the power of ni-Vanuatu workers that have joined the Union in Australia, there have been improvements made.

Meanwhile, Mr Rechstein says one of the examples of Union assisting workers from Vanuatu filing legal proceedings against their employer, AgriLabour, in the Federal Court.

Their case was the issue of being paid under a piece-rate system and that threats were made against them by the agent that recruited them in Vanuatu.

Rechsteins says this issue has been settled and more than 20 workers have been allowed to return for seasonal work in Australia.

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