Workers in Timor Leste come together for Dili’s biggest May Day ever

May 3, 2019

400 x 250 may day diliThis year’s May Day in Dili saw the largest rally of workers gather in the capital in decades. Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA’s partner organisations in Timor were actively involved in the 2019 May Day Committee and worked hard to ensure all workers were represented and that the rally was as inclusive as possible. The result? Dili’s biggest, loudest and best May Day ever!

Making May Day 2019 a Success

In 2018 a May Day Committee was established comprising of Union Aid Abroad APHEDA partners: SJT-TL (General Workers’ Union of Timor Leste), WWCTL (Working Women’s Centre of Timor Leste) and farmers’ organisations KSI (Kdalak Simultuk Institutu), IEP (Institutu Edukasaun Popular) and UNAER (Agricultural Farmers’ Union of Ermera) with contributions from NGOs representing workers with a Disability, LGBTI workers and many other groups represented on the day.

The May Day Committee identified key demands from various groups. These included:

  • specific legislation to recognise Domestic Workers (as promoted and developed by the WWCTL),
  • land rights for Timorese farmers (who make up over 80 % of Timor Leste’s workforce) and
  • an increase in the current Minimum Wage to US$200 per month.

Returned Seasonal Workers and May Day

An exciting new addition to this year’s May Day rally was the direct participation of Timorese seasonal workers who returned to Timor Leste after working in Australia, mostly on farms. With the ongoing support of the National Union of Workers (NUW) in Australia, Timorese seasonal workers are joining the NUW when working on seasonal contracts and using their collective power to challenge poor employment practices by farmers, including shoddy accommodation and dodgy wages and contracts. The relationship between the SJT-TL and the NUW has been strengthened this year with the employment of a Seasonal Worker Organiser in Timor Leste to ensure departing workers are fully aware of their workplace rights in Australia including the right to unionise. The Organiser also supports returning seasonal workers to claim outstanding super payments.

In a cross-border show of solidarity, a banner in English calling for Australian employers to respect the Australian laws for seasonal workers was featured in the Timorese press and shared widely across social media in both countries.

Pre-May Day Press Conference

The day before the march, the Committee held a press conference which was attended by all media outlets in Timor Leste. The Press Conference outlined the demands of the workers and drew on the importance of solidarity amongst all workers. Included in the platform were the rights of workers with disabilities and LGBTI workers who currently face a range of discriminatory practices and barriers to employment.


May Day 2019 was big, loud and inclusive. May 2020 be bigger still!

The 2019 May Day Rally was led by the Dili-based LGBTI Drumming Band while vision-impaired workers marched at the front holding the banner demanding dignity at work.

May Day Committee members have vowed to make next year’s May Day Rally even more inclusive. It aims to provide greater access for people with a disability and broader sections of Timor’s working population including informal sector workers to be able to actively participate and present their demands to Timorese Government.

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