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10th Anniversary Edition

The Newsletter of the Unions Aotearoa International Development Trust Issue 20, Autumn 2019

Dalit workers gaining


W e want to take this

opportunity to thank you,
our donors - many of you who
have been with us since 2009
when UnionAID was established -
who have contributed generously
over the years. Your collective
contributions have made a
significant difference to the lives of
working people and their families
in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Fiji,
Philippines, Bangladesh, Solomon
Raja Lakshmi, Islands, and on the Thai-Burma
President of the Narikuravar (Gypsy) Craft Cooperative border.

S ince 2011 the focus of our work in India with the Tamil Nadu Labour Union To celebrate this milestone this
(TNLU) has been on establishing co-operatives with Dalit and Tribal workers special edition of the Solidarity
so they can gain independence from money lenders and middlemen that have kept newsletter looks back at some of
them trapped in a cycle of poverty. the highlights and stories from
the work our project partners
Over 2,175 men and women have joined these small scale co-operatives ranging have done on the ground this past
from leather sandal makers in Madurai to tribal goat rearers in the hills around decade.
Thank you once again for your
With guidance and training from the TNLU and their own hard work, co-op generous support that has helped
members have enjoyed great successes. Our make these achievements possible.
surveys show that over 50% of members doubled
their incomes within 3 years. This has allowed many Ross Wilson
to start saving for the future for the first time in their Chair of UnionAID Trustees
Myanmar unions growing
When UnionAID was established
in 2009 trade unions were illegal
in Myanmar. Our friends in the
Federation of Trade Unions of Burma
(FTUB) like Min Lwin and Htwe Nge
lived in exile on the Thai border,
unable to return to their homes from
fear of imprisonment by the military
Since 2012, when Myanmar moved
towards democratic government
and the laws forbidding freedom of
association were lifted, there has been
a surge to establish unions. However,
it is still largely a hostile environment
and the need for basic training for
workers, organisers and office holders
is essential.
UnionAID has supported emerging Work in the Yangon railway factory
unions of hotel workers, nurses
and trishaw drivers to establish that is struggling to survive despite Federation is now over 2,000 strong,
themselves, but it is an uphill battle, the committed efforts of members. has successfully campaigned to secure
as evidenced by the nurses’ union The Myanmar Railway Workers over 600 workers permanent jobs.

Migrants find safe work

High unemployment and low wages
have driven five million Myanmar
citizens to seek work in other
countries, many across the border in
Thailand. Your donations have helped
nearly 1500 of these young women
avoid being trafficked, instead gaining
industrial sewing skills at the FTUB
Training Centre on the Thai-Burma
border. The majority of these trainees
have then found jobs in Thailand and
support their families by sending
remittances home.

Contact us
PO Box 6689
Marion Square
Wellington 6141
Phone: 021 0250 6402
Newsletter Credits
Stories: Helen Wilson & Michael Naylor
Design: Marty Braithwaite
Sewing lessons at the Mae Sot Occupational Training Centre


You can help vulnerable workers in developing countries in our region get a fairer deal by
making a small monthly donation by direct debit by visiting:
When we all clap together
– a life changed
As a Dalit, Pancha was born with the duty
of cremation work in her small township in
Tamil Nadu, India.
It is a tough job which she and her husband
carry out with dignity. They would
typically earn less than $NZ2 for the 24
hours it takes to complete a cremation.
Demands for more, Pancha said, could be
met with violence.
When the TNLU established a union for
cremation workers 10 years ago Pancha
took the brave step to join. Since then
she has become a leader in her district,
speaking at public rallies and taking
the union’s demands to local officials,
something she never thought she could do
as a both a Dalit and a woman.
The collective strength of the union
has seen cremation workers officially Shankar (left) and Pancha (middle) with their family
recognised by the government, issued with ID cards and
all the rights - including access to public healthcare - that nearby railway station he is now pursuing his passion as an
come with that. Pancha and the other cremation workers art teacher.
successfully bargained with the district council to set pay
Pancha’s story shows the life changing power of collective
rates for cremation work and raise these each year.
action. When asked why she chose to join the union 10 years
The extra income has helped send her oldest son Shankar to ago her answer is simply “When we all clap together only
teachers college. After years studying under the light of the then will they hear us.”

Garment workers wage win

In 2015 the minimum wage for
garment workers in Fiji was
one of the lowest in the country
at near poverty level for many
workers. Over three years the
National Union of Factory and
Commercial Workers educated
thousands of garment and factory
workers about their labour rights,
culminating in a campaign to lift
the minimum wage for garment
In 2017 the government increased
the minimum wage for garment
workers by 19%, making a
significant difference to the lives
of working people and their
Garment workers display their signed campaign postcards families.
Young leaders making leaders
their mark
their mark

Myanmar Young Leaders Programme 2018 students

In 2009 we welcomed our first group in Myanmar’s tentative steps towards In 2018 a first group of 8 young
of young community leaders from democracy. Alumni are contributing in leaders from Eastern Indonesia
Myanmar here in Wellington. At various ways - for example, by building graduated from our new programme
the time Myanmar was still under community action against illegal in Auckland and in 2019 we will
the control of the military junta mining operations, strengthening welcome 8 young leaders from the
and citizens’ rights were severely community relationships with local region of Mindanao in southern
oppressed. Since then 71 young authorities, giving civic education and Philippines.
leaders have returned to play a part youth training.

By the numbers . . .
12 new unions established in India and Myanmar
35 MYLP fieldwork projects reaching over 2,850 people
82 domestic workers freed from debt
352 Kiwi Solidarity Donors
400 call centre workers in the Philippines supported challenging unfair dismissals
600 Dalit children in after school education
12,000+ volunteer hours
$180,000+ back pay won by manual scavengers and tank
operators in Madurai


You can help vulnerable workers in developing countries in our region get a fairer deal by
making a small monthly donation by direct debit by visiting: