Interview with Tim Lyons, Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions

Tim Lyons, who was the Workers' group spokesperson at the 15th ILO Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting, talks about the situation of workers in Fiji, the promotion of ILO Conventions in Australia, and what the Australian Council of Trade Unions expects from the ILO...

Press release | Melbourne, Australia | 19 January 2012

ACTRAV INFO: You participated in the ILO’s 15th Asia Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM) which had a special focus on Decent Work. What will your memories of this meeting be?

Tim Lyons: It was a great honor to be elected as the Chair of the Workers’ Group, and a fantastic opportunity to meet and work with union brothers and sisters from across the region.

Three things in particular struck me about the meeting. The first is that too many Governments and Employers in the region are dismissive of strategies to deliver income led growth at the national level. Second, unions in all countries talked about the importance of the issues associated with insecure work and migration (including internal migration). Finally, it is clear that in a range of countries in the region we face a serious challenge to implement even minimum standards and that basic union rights remain under attack in countries as diverse as Fiji and Bahrain.

And of course, I have to specially mention the wonderful hospitality of the Japanese Government and our colleagues of JTUC Rengo.

During the last APRM, a Resolution on the trade union situation in Fiji was adopted on 7th December, 2011 by the participants. From the point of view of ACTU, what should the ILO do to protect workers and unions in Fiji?

It is important to acknowledge that the ILO mission to Fiji, headed by Guy Ryder, ILO Deputy Director-general was very timely and worthwhile given the international union movement’s concerns. Consistent with the resolution in Kyoto, specific demands should now be made of Fiji by the ILO with regards to upholding the Conventions pertaining to worker’s rights to organize and freedom of association. The ILO should ensure Fiji’s abrogation of workers’ rights is discussed and dealt with at the ILC in June through the standards forum. Of course, the work of the ILO Fiji office in supporting the activities of trade unions and unionists, particularly trade union leaders remains critical. Ongoing co-operative efforts from unions and employers to improve the situation in Fiji are important.

On 14th December 2011, Australia ratified the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006).Globally, what do you think about the ratification and implementation of the ILO instruments in your country; in particular since Australia is a major country of destination of Migrant Workers, Conventions 97 and 143 on the rights of migrant workers, and Convention 189 on Domestic Workers?

Ratification of ILO instruments within Australia is an important process both in terms of domestic recognition of such tools for protection and enhancement of workers’ rights but also in terms of Australia’s role as a global partner in the pursuit of world-wide acceptance of labour standards. The ACTU is pleased that the Australian government and workers’ representatives played an important role in the development of the domestic workers’ convention last year and will work towards ensuring Australia becomes a signatory. The ACTU will also be tabling a resolution at our National Congress in May 2012 recommending that the movement supports Australia becoming a signatory to the two ILO conventions on the rights of migrant workers as well as the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The ACTU and our affiliates work persistently to protect migrant workers in Australia from exploitation through domestic laws and employment regulations and practices. It is often a difficult process given the potential for such workers to be seen as cheap labour by employers and for the use of migrant labour to undermine hard fought for rights and conditions for all workers in this country. The ratification of ILO and UN conventions will be a significant step in our domestic efforts and hopefully, play a role in globally raising awareness of the plight of many migrant workers.

Finally, from the point of view of ACTU, what are your expectations vis-à-vis the ILO on special issues like decent work, indigenous workers etc.?

The ILO has a unique opportunity to use its tripartite nature to pursue global standards that ensure that all people can make a decent living through the dignity of decent work. The ACTU is particularly pleased with the outcome from the discussion at the 2011 ILC on a social protection floor that underpins the “social wage” - so important for all but particularly women, indigenous peoples, children and the elderly. We look forward to pursuing the development of a recommendation on this issue. We are also very concerned about the issue of precarious work which we believe undermines the decent work agenda and which is already having an impact on the ability of workers to make a decent living, even here in Australia. We hope that the ILO will pursue this issue more vigorously in the very near future making it a priority for the decent work agenda.