EAST TIMOR: Workers battle IMF agenda



MELBOURNE — Zito da Costa, president of the East Timor Confederation of Trade Unions (Konfederasaun Sindikatu Timor Leste — KSTL), one of several trade union groupings in East Timor, addressed a small gathering at Trades Hall on August 21. Da Costa was attending the Australian Council of Trade Unions congress.

Da Costa said that KSTL's main aim was to "improve the living conditions" of the people. "Those staffing the union are all volunteers", da Costa explained, "because workers still have to be convinced that trade unions are their organisations, which they should sustain and own".

The KSTL is composed of seven trade unions, which represent musicians, nurses, doctors, construction workers, horticulturalists and, since February, transport and shipping workers. With the assistance of the Maritime Union of Australia, the shipping and transport union is slowly beginning to organise.

Da Costa said that the East Timorese constitution protected workers' rights "100%", but the implementation of its provisions has been severely lacking. He complained of the lack of a minimum wages board and an arbitration board.

Prices for basic commodities, such as rice, sugar, fuel and cooking oil — which were subsidised under Indonesian rule — now vary wildly from market to market. Da Costa argued that the East Timor government needed to "set the prices in internal markets".

Da Costa criticised the so-called poverty reduction strategies of United Nations agencies and the international financial institutions, which are supported by the Dili government. "At a recent UN Development Program seminar in Dili, it was argued that we need to reduce poverty, but agricultural minister Estanislau da Silva said that having a minimum wage would deter foreign investors", da Costa reported. KSTL is involved in a committee to examine the impact of international financial institutions in East Timor.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported to donor countries in December that it had advised the Timorese government against setting minimum wages, price controls and subsidies.

According to da Costa, the installation of prepaid electricity meters, which were recommended by the IMF, began in early August. The move was met with popular protests.

The meters will worsen social inequality, da Costa noted. "One house would enjoy electricity because they can afford it, while the house next door will be in darkness."

The Timorese government has awarded a three-year management contract to run East Timor's power supply to the Macau Electricity Corporation.

From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.

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