Haiti: decent work could overcome a 'cruel act of nature' says TUC

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TUC Aid Haiti Appeal

Trade union summit on Haiti

8-9 April 2010

The TUC is calling for action to transform Haiti - a country destroyed by a cruel act of nature - into a prosperous country which cares about and respects human rights, including workers' rights. Decent work will be vital to that process, said the TUC's Bandula Kothalawala in a speech to the Trade Union Summit on Haiti being held on 8-9 April in Santo Domingo, capital of Haiti's neighbouring Dominican Republic.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and its Americas region have convened the trade union summit on Haiti, three months after the devastating earthquake. The TUC's Bandula Kothalawala, who runs the TUC Aid Appeal for Haiti, made the following speech at the conference.

Speech (also available in the original French)

I would like to thank the ITUC for inviting the TUC to this trade union meeting which we consider to be an important step in expressing practical solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Haiti and, through them, with the people of Haiti.

On behalf of the British trade union movement, I take this opportunity to pay our respect to the thousands of victims of the tragic event and salute the courage, determination and resilience that our Haitian colleagues have shown in the face of a catastrophe of exceptional proportions. Despite the geographical distance which separates us, we stand in solidarity with you. We are very much conscious of the pain and suffering you went through due to the earthquake.

The TUC, through its charity - TUC Aid - launched an appeal to its affiliates and the public for funds to meet the immediate and urgent needs of the victims of the earthquake. I am happy and proud to say that the response was quick, spontaneous and generous. It is a clear indication of the strong friendship the British people feel towards our brothers and sisters in Haiti. We have been able to raise some 125,000 Euros through our Appeal. It is an expression of practical solidarity by the British trade union movement with the people in developing countries.

Our affiliates and their members were the first to send us contributions and they are still sending us donations. In February, we organised a concert in our Head Office in collaboration with a number of organisations. Many famous artists performed there. It was a fantastic success.

The TUC would like to express its support for the people of Haiti in their initiatives to rebuild their country. I am sure that we in the international trade union movement will be with them in their efforts to rebuild their country and their lives.

I would also like mention that the TUC has supported the campaign for the cancellation of Haiti's debts. We are affiliated to the Jubilee Debt Campaign which campaigns for the cancellation of debts owed by poor nations.

We are well aware of the reconstruction plan being implemented by the Government of Haiti with the support of the international community. We believe that there is a historic opportunity to transform the country destroyed by a cruel act of nature into a prosperous country - a country which cares about and respects human rights, including workers' rights. In this regard, we think that it is necessary to support the Haitian trade union movement in their efforts to strengthen their institutions, structures and networks.

In our view, the efforts should also focus on the protection of the most vulnerable sections in Haitian society - especially women and children. They should also need to take into account the imperative need for the effective delivery of essential public services - that's the delivery of vital public services - notably, health, education and potable water.

We are gathered here today not just to express our support for on-going efforts, but also to explore with our Haitian colleagues useful and effective ways of contributing to the reconstruction of the country and to the well-being of its people.

In this regard, we share the deeply held conviction of the international trade union movement that decent work - the concept developed by the International Labour Organisation - is an indispensable tool. It is a useful and effective way of protecting and promoting workers' rights within a framework of a sustainable long-term strategy for employment generation and economic growth. We are convinced that the concept in its entirety has its validity in the present context.

We are therefore glad that the Donors' Conference held recently in New York has recognized the need to establish a social protection system for everybody in Haiti. This is precisely what we would like to see happen there and we do hope that donors will be serious about this proposition.

We hope that our discussions here will lead to an action plan or at least to a road map.

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