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Floods Devastate Communities, Disrupt Unions in Timor-Leste

Flood affected Timor-Leste

Flood affected Timor-Leste

Stories are coming fast out of Timor-Leste, where flooding has so far claimed the lives of 36 people, with at least 19 still missing. Tropical Cyclone Seroja hit Timor-Leste and Indonesia early last week and the subsequent storms and flooding have caused massive disruption in rural areas as well as the country’s capital of Dili. Already in the grips of COVID-19 outbreaks, the disaster may have long-term effects for many years in the future.

Union Aid Abroad

APHEDA, the global justice arm of the Australian union movement, reports that many of its projects and partners in the country have been upended, disrupting (hopefully only temporarily) decades of work in some cases. APHEDA’s regional office itself is located in Dili. All staff and organisers are reported to be safe, but the situation is dire.

Show your solidarity to workers in Timor-Leste by giving to APHEDA's appeal.

Elisabeth de Araujo, APHEDA's Country Manager in Timor Leste has described the situation as, "The worst disaster to hit Timor Leste since Independence."

Of APHEDA’s five partner organisations in Timor-Leste, four are located in rural areas that have been devastated by the floods. They are primarily targeted at organising farmers into regional representative bodies to then use a collective approach in decision making around land use and fair compensation. Around 80% of Timor Leste’s workforce is engaged in farm work, and with so much of the land now devastated by flooding, the livelihoods of these workers and their families are now in serious trouble. The Working Women’s Centre, the fifth of APHEDA’s partners, which works with many women in the kinds of work that isn’t covered by industrial unions (largely domestic workers) also reports that the next few weeks and months will be an incredibly difficult time for those who depend on the centre for support and coordination.

Timor Post journalists offer support in flood-affected areas

Timor Post journalists offer support in flood-affected areas

Unions Support the Fight For Independence

In 2019, the Parliament of Timor-Leste presented the Medal of the Order of Timor-Leste to the Australian union movement in recognition of the role it played in the campaign for the country's independence 20 years prior.

Australian unions campaigned for UN peacekeeping forces to enter Timor-Leste during its revolt against Indonesian occupation, and provided medical and crucial supplies after the Timorese people overwhelmingly voted for independence in the face of Indonesian aggression. Union members blockaded airports to prevent Garuda Airlines (Indonesia’s national airline) flights from taking off, in order to disrupt holidaymakers from boosting the Indonesian economy. The MUA staged a mass-scale black ban on all cargo ships coming in and out of Australian ports, resulting in at least one shipment of 80,000 tonnes of wheat being withheld from the Indonesian market.

But the work of unions didn’t stop when the UN took over in 1999 or when Timor-Leste elected its first government in 2001. APHEDA, backed by the full support of the trade union movement, played a key role in the establishment of Timor’s peak union body, the Konfederasaun Sindikatu Timor-Leste (KSTL) and has been its strongest source of external support for over 20 years.

Solidarity, Not Charity

APHEDA was founded on the principle that economic and social development must be carried out in collaboration and consultation with the communities receiving assistance. They don’t do charity. They raise money, certainly, but that money goes to projects designed to aid workers as they organise and fight for a better future.

They are currently running an appeal for rebuilding livelihoods in response to the floods and the pandemic.

By contributing today, you will help APHEDA’s Timor Leste partner organisations:

  • Play their roles in recovering from the impact of both the COVID and flood disasters.

  • Ensure project partner organisations are equipped with the resources they need to support members impacted by the crisis.

  • Sustain their successful movement-building and organising among workers, women and farmers.

  • Practical assistance to restore livelihoods impacted by the double crisis.

  • Strengthen rights for Timorese workers, women and farmers to collectively organise.

Show your solidarity here