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Workers organise first East Timor May Day public holiday

Associated Press - April 27, 2000

Timor Loro Sae Comisaun Loron Maio - East Timor May Day Committee

Media Advisory

28 April 2000, Dili, East Timor - spokesperson Eusebio Guterres

Workers organise first East Timor May Day - UNTAET Declares New National Public Holiday in Response

In the midst of these early days of Timor Loro Sae's transition to independence, and at a time of endemic unemployment and growing labour strife, East Timorese have won their first new national public holiday.

Following months of preparation and with broad community support, the East Timor May Day Committee has received a declaration from Transitional Administrator Sergio de Mello proclaiming Monday, May 1 as May Day.

The Committee, comprised of emerging workers' associations, the Labor Advocacy Institute, many representatives of civil society and the unemployed, will now join all East Timorese and their counterparts around the world in an international day of celebration, education and advocacy for workers' rights.

"The UN Transitional Administration is not only the temporary government of East Timor but is the biggest employer of our people", stated May Day Committee Coordinator Nino Periera. "While they are so often the source of labor strife in these conflicting roles, we are encouraged by their support for a day which brings together all workers, the unemployed and their families."

The May Day declaration also follows a two day forum on employment and labor relations sponsored by the ILO (International Labour Organisation) and UNTAET. According to Eusebio Guterres of LAIFET, the Labour Advocacy Institute of East Timor, these two events may signal a shift in the UN's previous attitudes towards labor issues and of the process of creating legislation during the transition period.

"For months, East Timorese have struggled with 90% unemployment. Those lucky to work receive subsistence wages, endure poor working conditions and have no health and safety protections, social benefits or contracts, even when they work for wealthy overseas companies or United Nations organisations", said Guterres.

As a result of the ILO/UNTAET forum, East Timorese will be now be full participants in the formulation of labour and employment laws and the creation of interim measures which will set minimum standards, protect workers' rights, consider price controls and settle disputes.

"The UN has agreed to implement a ILO-based Tripartite Plus participatory process, including representatives from workers, employers, government and civil society. Together with the May Day Declaration, East Timorese can finally participate in meaningful job creation and in the planning of their own economic future," according to the LAIFET coordinator.

"As the best expression of their support, we hope that the UN will authorise their overseas employees to join with all East Timorese workers, employed, unemployed and their families, in celebrating our new national holiday," concluded Guterres.

East Timorese workers and the unemployed will be joined in East Timor on May Day by international labour officials and leaders of Aboriginal organisations in Australia.

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