Jeff Lawrence: Celebrating 25 years of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA


It’s a pleasure & honour to be here to mark the 25th Anniversary of Union Aid Abroad – or as we know it as APHEDA.  

For 25 years APHEDA has been helping sustainable development, education and health outcomes, all over the world.  It is important we recognise and honour the contribution Union Aid Aboard has made to make the world fairer for the people it has worked with.  Especially at this time when global solidarity is so important.  

Public and media attention of the global financial crisis and its impact has been overwhelming.  The reality is that we already had a crisis in too many countries in the world - driven by inequality, poverty, unemployment and global imbalances in trade and development. The collapse of the financial system has deepened that devastation.

  • Millions of workers have lost their jobs and  the ILO says up to 59 million may join those who are already unable to get work this year alone. In Australia, some 5000 workers lose their jobs every week.
  • It’s estimated 200 million more people worldwide could be forced into extreme poverty, joining the 1.4 billion people who are already desperately trying to live on less than $2US dollars a day.
  • Migrant workers are again being made scapegoats.
  • Women are again the invisible victims of the erosion of work, often precarious in the first place.
  • The rights of future generations to a secure job and a safe planet are at risk because of an economic system that has left the value of worker’s jobs, houses, savings and the value of their pension funds stripped away, not by natural disasters, but by a crisis caused by greed and incompetence in the financial sector.

  • We now need a new economic model that works, where global governance is serious and promotes and supports decent work and development.  We must not go back to the way regulation was.
    We must not go back to an era that allows excessive executive salaries. 

    Yesterday’s announcement that BHP CEO will receive a 51 per cent pay increase to $10.4 million is a disgrace.  BHP has slash thousands of jobs, including 1800 at Ravensthorpe nickel mine in Western Australia.  

    Equally it’s a disgrace that CBA boss has had a 6 per cent pay increase to $9.2 million – when employees have been required to accept a wage freeze – and the bank has benefited immensely from the government credit guarantee.

    Executive salaries have risen 564 per cent since 1990s – that’s 11% every year adjusted for inflation.  Ordinary wages rose by only 1 and half per cent a year.

    Globally, the gap between rich and poor has been increasing since the ‘90s.  We’ve seen it in Australia – with the difference between wage and profit share at record levels.

    Across the world, wages on average have grown at a slower rate that GDP growth.  Since 1995, for each 1 per cent increase in GDP – wages have only grown by 0.75.  And the decline has been increasing, with the last five years seeing wages drop from 0.80 to 0.72 percentage points.

    Decent work can restore the balance.  Decent work means a strong safety net and fair minimum wage, enhanced by collective bargaining and rights at work.

    Countries with high coverage of collective agreements show less wage disparity, with wages growing 0.87 percentage points for each 1 per cent growth in GDP.  Compared with countries with fewer collective agreements, whose wages grew by only 0.65.  [Statistics from Global Wages Report 2008/09]

    This international trend highlights the importance of restoring collective bargaining rights in Australia – and progressive governments are seeing this around the world.

    The Fair Work Act is not dissimilar to the aims of the Employees’ Free Choice Act in the US.  Internationally, there is recognition that the balance must be restored.  Working people should have a stronger say – as Obama said in January this year – “we need to reverse many of the policies towards organized labor we’ve seen these last eight years, policies with which I have sharply disagreed. 

    I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem; to me, and my administration, labor unions are a big part of the solution.  We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions what represent their interests.”


    Australian Unions and the Global Financial Crisis
    During the global financial crisis Australian unions have ensured that working people’s rights were restored with the end of WorkChoices and the creation of the Fair Work Act.  We have also seen the introduction of paid parental leave for all new working mothers.   

    We have worked with the government to see that the stimulus spend benefits working people with long term infrastructure development, environmental sustainability, education, and social housing.

    We have ensured that local jobs are supported with decent wages and conditions and a proper safety net.

    We will continue to stand up for workers in the construction industry to see that they have the same rights as all other workers.  And that independent contractors have fairer workplace rights.

    We believe that working people deserve the highest protection in health and safety – and we will not settle for second rate laws.

    We believe it is a disgrace that the wage gap between men and women has grown in Australia.  

    We will make sure that women have improved access to collective bargaining, that workers are not worse off from award modernisation, and that the disgraceful final decision of the so-called ‘fair pay commission’ to freeze the wages of our lowest paid workers is not repeated.

    What we aim for to improve equality in Australia – through decent and safe work – is reflected in what we aim for internationally.  As the aid arm of the ACTU – Unions’ Aid Aboard – works at achieving our vision for a fairer world.
     

    Sustainable development
    We know that decent work and skills development is essential for sustainable development.  For international aid, this should be our national focus.  We’re glad to see a shift away from the self interested aid model of the Howard years.  It’s time to promote genuine development in the interest of the people of the countries we assist, particularly our Pacific and Asian neighbours.

    Genuine development means sustainable economies and societies that bring security and dignity to our region, of course.  But most importantly, sustainable development helps protect human rights, improves living standards and the well being of our brothers and sisters, and eliminates poverty.    

    Union Aid Aboard - APHEDA has led the way in sustainable development by building lasting social and economic change.   


    Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA’s contribution
     
    Internationally, Union Aid Abroad has been addressing these critical issues for 25 years!

    We are proud of the contribution made by all of you – the staff, past and present, volunteers, Board members, partners in developing countries.  On behalf of Australian unions and unionists, the contribution you have made to addressing poverty, inequality and injustice is outstanding.

    Thanks to everyone who makes up this network of committed and hard working people.

    The work of APHEDA has made a significant contribution to the lives on many thousands of working families in the Pacific, countries in South East Asia, the Middle East and southern Africa. This work has focused on:

  • Skills training for working women and men (especially women)
  • Strengthening unions in developing countries

  • Others will have highlighted some of the outstanding contributions APHEDA has made over those 25 enormous years, but I want to mention a few of my favourites:

    In South Africa, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA was the lead Australian aid agency in fighting apartheid, assisting the ANC with capacity building for various Departments, assisting those in exile to return during the transition to democracy, bringing Nelson Mandela to Australia in 1990 and in recent years, assisting the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially through supporting the work of the trade union movement.

    In Cambodia, APHEDA has trained over 80,000 people; mainly women, since 1985, focusing on technical / vocational education, agriculture, forestry and fishery, women’s health, HIV and nutrition, and strengthening unions for women in the informal economy.

    In East Timor, since 1998, over 5,000 workers have been trained in literacy, sewing and tailoring and handicraft production, and carpentry, mechanical and agriculture, with media and librarian training also provided.  And, APHEDA has helped establish and strengthen the trade union movement in East Timor, supporting Timorese working men and women to win fair wages and safe workplaces.

    And there are many, many more!

    This work is making Decent Work a reality in the developing world.  This work addresses social injustice and provides genuine solidarity between workers in Australia with workers and their communities in countries less fortunate than our own.

    The ACTU is proud of the work of Union Aid Abroad does. APHEDA is a unique and wonderful part of the Australian trade union movement. The ACTU commits to supporting this work into the future, and will work with Australian unions for an even brighter future for this very important and necessary work.