“Their problems at work are our problems as well.”
By Anneke Westerlaken
As President of CNV Internationaal, I am sometimes asked “how it’s our business” as a union to be involved in places like Africa, Southeast Asia, or Latin America. The answer became crystal clear to me during my first work visit to Indonesia last week.
Day 1: Visit to our partner union in the garment sector
The vast majority of workers in the garment industry are women. Our partner union is making important strides for women’s rights. Thanks to the union and support from CNV Internationaal, topics like harassment and violence towards women at work are getting attention. Difficult conversations are also being held on issues like miscarriages and menstrual problems. The collective labour agreement gives women the right to two weeks’ paid leave in the event of a miscarriage.
On day 1 we met with garment union Gartek where men and women are working together to ensure a good working environment. How has this been achieved? Through a strong trade union…
Day 2: Making plans for stronger social dialogue
CNV Internationaal has trained our partners in Indonesia on how to conduct social dialogue. We did this in cooperation with DECP, the international programme of Dutch employers. Our Dutch polder model helps us as employers and employer organisations in finding win-win solutions. The government of Indonesia has a tendency to get too involved in issues. Even when it results in legislation that takes rights away from workers, such as a decrease in the minimum wage.
Without a strong union, the government has more opportunities to implement these kinds of negative changes. This is why we’ve been training Indonesian unions and employers on how to work together to create solutions and proposals. The participants received a certificate during our visit. In addition, we made plans to further improve their skills for doing good social dialogue.
Day 3: Conversation with Minister Kaag about the Palm Oil sector
We invited ourselves to a round table discussion with Minister Kaag during the trade mission. The subject? Palm oil, large and significant sector in Indonesia. When palm oil is discussed, talks usually tend to revolve around de-forestation and the effects on the climate. This discussion, which involved the Vice Minister of Indonesia and other stakeholders, is about the position of “small holders”, small farmers who own a limited number of hectares for producing palm oil. The “big guys” of the industry often put them in a difficult position.
While this is an important subject, we would like to address the position of workers in general. That is a area with lots of room for improvement! Issues like unrealistic production goals force workers to have to bring their children to the plantations where they work extremely long days trying to meet those production goals. Child labour is also involved.
This is another situation where we can clearly see: Without unions, there’s no way to get better agreements. This is why we work in the palm oil sector to achieve better collective agreements for plantations. We also strive to create more transparency for financial institutions in the Netherlands regarding the working conditions. Then people can cooperate and invest in palm oil companies who treat their workers well. This will help improve working conditions and also the lives of the workers.
Day 4: Inspiration for domestic workers
4 million people work as domestic workers in Indonesia. They work as nannies, chauffeurs, or house cleaners. These people aren’t covered by regular labour laws. And they’ve been waiting some 12 years to see legislation to improve their circumstances. Legislation on issues like minimum wage, days off, or social security.
A meeting with Jala, the domestic workers movement—such resilience and creativity!
When we visited Jala, I was extremely impressed by their strength, creativity, and resilience . How they connect colleagues to their movement. We can learn from them here in the Netherlands. With education and selection programmes, they manage to make great strides towards emancipation for domestic workers. This is a group of very vulnerable people who have a strong will to win. We’re glad that Jala is supported by their Dutch colleagues of the Cleaning and Window Cleaning industry. CNV colleague, Jan Kampherbeek, has made this support a reality with a contribution from this cao.
Every day, here in the Netherlands, we wear clothes made in an Indonesian factory. We use products containing palm oil from their plantations. The problems those workers encounter are therefore also our problems.
We have a responsibility as a union to improve their living conditions. Everyone has the right to good work. This is one of the great things about union work. We stand in a strategic position to make good agreements, through establishing covenants, enforcing rules and laws, and conducting social dialogue.
Trade unions are necessary, independent parties. We are needed to improve working conditions and income possibilities for workers. No other party can take over our role. Union members are our eyes and ears on the work floor. They can monitor and help make sure that agreements are kept. In short: We make a difference, on many levels. Together.
Publication date 25 03 2020