Analysis

What Are The Unions Here Doing To Help Their Members Affected By This Crisis?

A very interesting question was asked to the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum yesterday. What are the unions doing to help their members during this pandemic?
17 Apr 2020 12:24
What Are The Unions Here Doing To Help Their Members Affected By This Crisis?
The Fiji Trades Union Congress office at McGregor Road in Suva on April 16, 2020. Photo: Inoke Rabonu

A very interesting question was asked to the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum yesterday. What are the unions doing to help their members during this pandemic?

What are the unions doing?

The tourism sector was the first to be affected.

Did we miss out on any announcements by the National Union of Hotel Catering and Tourism Industries Employees on how they are helping their members who have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in Union dues?

Were there any announcements? Are they helping? Have they set up a fund or diverted some of that money paid out by their members back to those who lost their jobs?

What about the Fiji Airways Flight Attendants Bargaining Unit?

What about the Fiji Trades Union Congress and its 35 affiliates?

Have these unions and the often vocal unionists come forward to raise funds for their members? Have they told their members that they do not need to pay their dues for the next several months?

These questions would no doubt be best answered by the unionists themselves.

These unionists have often given unsolicited comments on anything and everything, therefore, silence on how they are personally assisting their members is rather deafening.

South Africa

In South Africa, not only did the unions set aside money, they also started teaching classes so children of union members do not miss out on school work. They also set up hotlines for union members to answer questions their members may have.

According to reports: “South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) and Solidarity have launched separate initiatives through which their members can access information about the coronavirus and express their fears and concerns.

“SACTWU, shortly after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lockdown announcement on March 23, launched its COVID-19 Retirement Fund Helpline dealing with members’ concerns about their hard-earned retirement funds and how the unfavourable economic conditions could impact them.

“Solidarity on the other hand, established a COVID-19 crisis centre with dedicated staff who can listen to and deal with members’ questions.

“Andre Kriel, SACTWU general secretary, explained the union had been inundated with concerns from members about the impact of COVID-19 retirement funds.

“We have assembled a team of retirement fund experts to directly answer queries from our members, regarding this matter. We do so in order to continue our union’s service delivery support to our members about issues of concern to them, under the difficult conditions of a lockdown,” he said.

“According to Ronel Stander, Solidarity organiser in the Western Cape, information regarding the crisis centre was disseminated to all the union’s South African Police Services members. Police officers were encouraged to raise all labour related questions during this time to the crisis centre.

“Solidarity has also established an emergency fund to alleviate the social needs that arise as a result of the virus.

“This fund will be monitored by Solidarity Helping Hand. The trade union will host a “Wolkskool” (Cloud school) for all learners from Grade 4 to Grade 12 up until June 30. This is to ensure that members’ children do not miss out on vital schoolwork.”

United States

American local union Unite Here reported how it helped members: “Unite Here staff is running phone banks and helping members fill out unemployment forms, apply for food stamps and find emergency housing. In Las Vegas, the local said it has fed 6000 workers via drive-through and home delivery of meals.”

The Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) has started a relief fund to provide payments of $500 to union workers who have lost their jobs or seen their hours cut because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The initial funding will be distributed to 500 families with plans to expand that as additional donations come in, the CFL said. It said those interested in applying should notify their unions.

It’s called the Chicago Labor Relief Fund, and donations are being solicited at ChicagoLaborReliefFund.org.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the Musicians Union: In response to the widespread cancellation of work that has hit our profession as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have taken the decision to set up a £1M hardship fund that members with genuine and pressing hardship can apply to.

UK entertainment union Equity, which has close to 50,000 members, has pledged £1M ($1.2M) to its Benevolent fund to support struggling members. The money, which is being injected as a result of coronavirus disruption, comes from funds earmarked for union campaigns and the union’s reserve.

There you go, here are some inspiration for local unions to also do their bit.

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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