n November 2010, leaders from the three chapters of the Asian Labor Network on International Financial Institutions (ALNI) traveled to the United States as part of a Solidarity Center exchange program. On the delegation were ALNI Philippines Media Coordinator Julius Cainglet from the Federation of Free Workers, ALNI Thailand Executive Committee member Arun Deerakchat from the State Railway Workers Union of Thailand, and ALNI Indonesia Executive Committee member Andy Sinaga from the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSBSI). The leaders met with representatives of the most important international financial institutions (IFIs). Solidarity Center intern Cassady Fendlay sat down with the group to learn more about their visit, their priorities, and their observations on labor solidarity.
(Left to right) Julius Cainglet, ALNI Philippines; Cassady Fendlay, Solidarity Center; Thawiphum Wiban, interpreter; Arun Deerakchat, ALNI Thailand; and Andy Sinaga, ALNI Indonesia.
Solidarity Center: How did you become involved in ALNI?
Julius Cainglet: I was involved in ALNI from the beginning. At the outset of the Asian financial crisis, IFIs such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) became involved in Southeast Asian economies. ALNI formed to help protect core labor standards in IFI projects and to lobby against further job loss due to reforms like privatization. I was originally involved with ALNI through my union, the Federation of Free Workers. This year, I was formally elected media coordinator for ALNI Philippines, and I still serve as Media Director for the FFW.
Arun Deerakchat: I became involved, first in my union and then in ALNI, through a training seminar to promote leadership and economic awareness among young unionists in Thailand. I took the lessons of this training and put them into practice, and when space opened up on the ALNI Thailand Executive Committee, I pursued it. For two years now I have worked for ALNI Thailand, promoting educational workshops like the one I once attended. I also helped conduct an environmental impact survey in the Map Ta Phut Eastern Industrial State (a zone where industrial business is concentrated), causing the Thai government to reassess some of the projects underway there. I am also a member of the Executive Committee of my union, the State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand, and I am involved in a campaign to stop the privatization of this state-run company.
Andy Sinaga: I started off in the KSBSI, and I became a member of the Executive Committee when the ALNI Indonesia chapter was founded in 2005. ALNI Indonesia is composed of 17 trade unions and 5 NGOs that focus on IFI issues, and it is open to individual workers who are not union members. In the past five years, we have conducted educational campaigns and published a bulletin every two months. Last year we launched a website. ALNI Indonesia holds annual meetings that involve multiple stakeholders and help the organization determine its upcoming strategy.
SC: What was the purpose of your trip to the United States?
JC: The main objective is to learn more about how the IFIs work, and we are visiting the headquarters of the World Bank, the IMF, and International Finance Corporation, as well as the Asian Development Bank’s satellite office here in Washington. Already we have learned a lot. We learned that the IFIs do have labor protection policies in place and that there is room for unions to raise issues with them. This is a major improvement in our relationship with the IFIs.
AS: We are interested in the IFI labor violation complaint process. For the Indonesian trade union movement, this is a new discovery. Returning to Indonesia, I will make sure information about this complaint process is distributed widely among all stakeholders, with the hopes of improving accountability among IFI contractors. Also we met with representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and we were able to tell them the truth about the effects of IFI projects in Southeast Asia.
SC: How have the IFIs affected workers in your respective countries?
JC: The privatization of the water and electricity sectors has resulted in mass layoffs. In the Philippines, there is no unemployment insurance. ALNI Philippines wants the impacts of privatization on employment to be studied, and plans put into place before projects commence, to preserve jobs, place laid-off workers in new jobs, or stimulate individual entrepreneurship. Social safety nets should be provided to help people financially cope with the changes. Further, the privatization projects should not compromise workers’ freedom of association and right to form unions; the private entities that assume control of these industries should recognize and bargain fairly with the union.
AD: In Thailand, the attempt to privatize the state railroad company has also resulted in huge cuts to the workforce, with many workers being replaced by part-time and temporary workers. The number of drivers has been greatly reduced, and as a result, a major accident occurred. Because of my leadership in the union, I was sued by the Thai government. In addition, the Thai government has launched a negative publicity campaign to sour the public’s opinion on railway workers’ opposition to privatization.
AS: The Indonesian trade movement appreciates the investment that the IFI projects have brought to Indonesia. However, we want the IFIs to respect core labor standards and freedom of association. Our research uncovered serious violations of core labor standards on IFI projects in Bali and West Kalimantan. The World Bank and the ADB both have policies on core labor standards, but the contractors they hire don’t always play by the rules. We want to work with the IFIs as a watchdog organization, and we want to be taken seriously as a stakeholder representing workers. Ideally, we’d like to meet with the IFIs regularly to ensure that core standards are being observed.
SC: What are other top priorities for workers in your countries?
JC: The Philippines is a signatory to all of the International Labor Organization’s core conventions. However, implementation has not occurred. Right now the Philippines is trying to amend the national labor code. We want the new legislation to address the problems of precarious forms of employment and the contracting out of work. Also we want the government to provide unemployment insurance for workers. Currently there is no such program for laid-off or unemployed workers, and this has a huge impact on the economy and on the strength of unions as well. We also support the passage of a Freedom of Information Act, so that we can become more effective watchdogs against corruption. We believe that unions should promote good governance.
AD: Our top priorities are job security, freedom of association, and the right to bargain collectively. One of the major barriers we face is that workers in state enterprises do not have the legal right to organize and cannot affiliate with unions in the private sector. Privatization has hurt employment in Thailand and has weakened the Thai labor movement.
AS: Union density in Indonesia is only about 5 percent, so our top priority is to organize, especially in the informal sector, which is not protected by national labor laws. We also want to increase the number of collective bargaining agreements reached in Indonesia; many employers avoid negotiating with unions because they have “individual employment contracts” with workers, although most often these “contracts” are verbal and informal. We are also trying to encourage women to participate in the unions and to take on union leadership positions. Finally, the National Social Security Act was passed in Indonesia in 2004, but it still has not been implemented, and we are urging the government to do so. Unemployment insurance is one of the act’s most important provisions.
SC: Do you have anything you’d like to say to U.S. union members?
JC: On behalf of Filipino workers, I’d like to thank American workers and the Solidarity Center for sending help, money, and relief goods during the floods last year. Solidarity among workers of the world is important, and during this crisis U.S. workers set a leading example of how to promote a spirit of brotherhood. The Filipino and American trade union movements both struggle to organize workers, protect social safety nets, and promote respect for decent forms of work. Helping each other out and sharing our experiences and lessons will help us all emerge victorious.
AD: Workers and leaders here in the United States should know how much the Solidarity Center has benefited workers in Thailand. Union dues amount to a small sum in Thailand, and the Solidarity Center has provided crucial funds for training and union strengthening. Without this assistance, I would not be here visiting the United States today.
AS: The KSBSI has a long history with the U.S. trade union movement, which supported our struggles against the Suharto regime. The KSBSI exists today, despite years of political repression, in part because of the support of American unions. Indonesia still needs the support of American trade unions in upcoming campaigns, especially as we attempt to confront the IFIs in Indonesia.