More than 25 million Filipinos are living for less than one 1.25 US Dollar a day, UN’s international poverty line. And 80 percent of the population live for less than 3 US Dollars a day according to Jens Aarup from the Danish LO/FTF Council:
“That is what I call pistol liberalism. A society where the rich take it all,” he says and continues: “The poor people maybe steal something to survive, but the rich steal huge amounts of the states’ money.”
LO/FTF Council is the Danish unions’ international development organisation. LO/FTF has an annual budget of 50 million Danish Kroner. Money which comes from Danida, the European Union, and different unions:
“You are not allowed to play with such a big amount of money without everything being in control, so that is my job to ensure,” tells Jens Aarup.
Jens Aarup came to Asia 11 years ago where he worked as project manager for LO/FTF in Pakistan. Since then he has moved around the region, for some time in Bangkok and for the last two years he has lived in Manila, Philippines:
“I was the one they forgot to call home. So I am still out here,” says Jens laughing.
The need for cooperation
LO/FTF Council see the poverty problem as one which can only be solved if labour and management work together.
“We try to get the unions and the employer’s organisations to cooperate instead of fight each other, for the better good for everyone,” says Jens and continues: “We tell them about common interest and responsibly for the production. And that everyone has to live from that.”
According to Jens Aarup this biggest problem is the lack of laws, rules and public systems to regulate society and the labour market in Asia:
“More than 25 million people live in Nepal, but when we first came there was only 12 labour inspectors in the whole country. So it was more than rare that a company got an injunction.”
Another reason is the lack of a social safety net in the Philippines:
“We once had to find a social worker, who would attend a conference in Copenhagen, but we couldn’t, there wasn’t anyone, only a few working in private organisations,” he says.
Development organisation not only solidarity group
Jens Aarup thinks it is important to tell that LO/FTF council works as any other development organisation and not only a solidarity organisation:
“We work for efficient labour market which we think is a precondition for democracy,” says Jens.
He also mentions that the LO/FTF’s current campaign is focused on decent work in Asia. LO/FTF Council works together with local partner organisations and currently they have activities all over all Asia including Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines.
Better working conditions and open administration
The Danish union organisation’s work in Asia is multifarious.
A recent example is starting official training for construction workers, which enables the workers an official certificate for their skills. At the same time they are working for a law to give the same working conditions for provisional workers as permanent employees.
Another current project is a law for open administration in Philippines, which is finalized in both chambers but still waits for the President to sign it.
“And in general we work a lot with professionalising the organisations here. Both employer and employees’ organisations,” says the Danish unionist Jens Aarup.
Around a table
A big part of LO/FTF Council’s activities in Asia is to train and educate workers’ organisations:
“We try to teach them better working procedures, which all parties will benefit from,” says Jens. He explains how workers conditions have improved in Pakistan after they have changed the way of cooperation between workers and employers:
“Before it was usual when the workers were unsatisfied with something the unions went into the streets with big demonstrations and violence. And then the court dissolved the unions. And nothing was changed,” says Jens and continues: “Then we managed to teach some of the union leaders that this has to be solved around a table in a fair discussion.”
The Danish union’s organisation tries to implement their way of organizing in Asia with safety representatives, workers representatives, and so on. But Jens Aarup soon realised that workers conditions was a matter of culture:
“When a worker dies on job in Pakistan, the family has the right to get compensation like we know it. But the family can also demand that a son gets his fathers job when he dies,” tells Jens.
But the Danish union has also succeed in making changes in Asia:
“I think that there is a lot of legislation out here which have our fingerprint, ” says Jens and continues “For instance in Nepal both employer and employees pay in to a social safety net.”