MEDIA RELEASE: Pacific unions concerned at lack of worker representation at Pacific Labour meeting

The South Pacific Council of Trade Unions (SPOCTU) welcomes the convening of the inaugural Pacific Labour Mobility Annual Meeting (PLMAM), on 23rd – 24th August 2016 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Labour mobility has the potential to bring substantial benefits to Pacific Island workers and nations. This includes the significant financial benefits that flow from remittances, as well as social benefits of access to training and employment opportunities not available at home.

These benefits will not accrue if the needs and experiences of Pacific Island workers are not taken into account, and their rights to decent work are not enforced.

As the voice for workers from across the Pacific across the region, SPOCTU is concerned that the inaugural Pacific Labour Mobility Annual Meeting will not include union representation.

The parties to the PACER Plus agreement are – with the exception of Palau – all member countries of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the majority are party to the 8 core conventions as international labour standards as the benchmark for the creation of decent jobs. Furthermore, Pacific Island Forum Leaders have committed all the Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) to SDG8 to promote decent work & economic growth. The tripartite structure of the ILO recognises that in order to shape labour policies and programmes that promote decent work it is necessary to give voice to workers, employers and governments.

Exploitation is already prevalent in existing labour mobility schemes:

• In December 2015, the Weekly Times reported on a group of workers who earned only $1.21/hr despite being entitled to $21.61/hour an hour under the horticulture award. 
• Labour-hire firm Maroochy Sunshine Pty Ltd is being prosecuted by the Fair Work Ombudsman for underpaying workers a total of $77,000. Including failing to pay 13 Ni-Vanuatu workers brought to Queensland in 2014, and paying another nine workers between $50 and $300 for up to seven weeks’ labour on Queensland fruit and vegetable farms.

Loreen Baniuri, President of SPOCTU says:

Seasonal work offers great opportunities for Pacific Island workers, but there are already too many stories of exploitation in the scheme. Governments and business must work together with unions to ensure that the rights of workers are enforced in current and future labour mobility programs in the region.

SPOCTU has endorsed “Defending Pacific Ways of Life: A Social Impact Assessment of PACER-Plus”, a social impact assessment of Pacer Plus carried out for the Pacific Network on Globalisation.

SPOCTU is the representative body of unionized employees in the South Pacific and Oceania region. It includes the national trade union organizations of Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna Islands. Combined, it represents the voice of more than 2.5 million working people in the Pacific region.

Media contact: Katie Hepworth, +675 7329 0584

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