Pacific unions reach across boundaries

FOR many years, the South Pacific and Oceanic Council of Trade Unions (SPOCTU) has linked unionists from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, to organise around wages, conditions and occupational health and safety. Today, the agenda for Pacific unions is expanding. Trade unionists are facing more complex challenges, such as supporting the thousands of Pacific workers who move offshore each year, restricting child labour or guaranteeing employment rights after natural disasters.

Unionists are a minority of the workforce in every Pacific country, but are reaching out to young workers and trying to strengthen communication across national boundaries. SPOCTU affiliates gathered in Brisbane earlier this year, and Australia’s Seasonal Work Programme (SWP) and New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme were a major focus for debate. Thousands of ni-Vanuatu travel to Australia and Zealand each year under RSE and SWP, often leaving their home islands for the first time.

But Jean-Pascal Saltukro of Vanuatu’s National Workers Union (NWU) says there have been too many cases where ni-Vanuatu workers have been exploited, through unexpected changes in working conditions or extra deductions taken from their weekly salary. “Some seasonal workers aren’t receiving the level of salary set out in the contract they signed in Vanuatu with a recruiting agent,” he said. “For example, the contract they sign might say that they’re paid by the hour. 

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