532 Words on: UnionAID

Nobody likes a hypocrite. If you’re not living the values you espouse then you shouldn’t expect to be taken seriously on any topic. You can’t love animals and wear fur, you can’t support workers’ rights and be a scab, and you can’t lecture the football community about making the world better if you’re not lifting a finger yourself.

It’s no secret that I’m a trade union organiser by day. Before my first union job, my entire working life up until that point had been under the Employment Contracts Act, which was anti-union legislation that saw real wages and working conditions drop considerably thanks to the employer/worker power imbalance heralded by the subsequent drop in union membership. In short, the ECA did exactly what it was designed to do.

The other thing we’ve got those years to thank for is the removal of import tariffs, which completely altered our way of life. New Zealand doesn’t manufacture much anymore. Instead we import almost all of our “goods” from developing countries. This has made everything a lot cheaper. How? It all comes back to wages. New Zealand wages are low, but they are positively Zuckerbergian compared to those in the countries that make our stuff.

And it’s great, right? Because if we paid those wages here it would lead to all sorts of messy scenes we wouldn’t want to have to step over on our way to lunch at The Grove. Much better if all those frightfully unsightly things happen in other countries where we can pretend it’s got nothing to do with us.

It’s got everything to do with us though. That’s why, in 2009, UnionAID was established. Its aim is to alleviate poverty by supporting people in developing Asia-Pacific countries to form unions and worker collectives to improve wages and put the likes of shady middle men, loan sharks and people smugglers out of business by empowering workers to lift themselves out of reach.

UnionAID has assisted 400 Philippino call centre workers to challenge unfair dismissals, trained 1,500 Myanmarese women to gain industrial sewing skills and educated members of the Fijian Garment Workers Union about their employment rights, which led to a successful campaign to lift the minimum wage in their country by 19%. They’ve also established a new union for Dalit cremation workers in India, who were earning NZD $2 for 24 hour cremation jobs and faced threats of violence for asking for more. The extra pay and conditions they now enjoy have in turn enabled 600 workers’ children to be educated and pursue their dreams rather than remain trapped in poverty.

This (and much more) has been achieved with 352 kiwis making direct debit donations. Imagine what they could do with more!

Which brings me to the question of what all this has to do with football. For starters, the chances are everything you touch and wear on training and match day pitches has been made by workers on subsistence wages in developing Asia Pacific countries. Plus, from now on, every time you purchase a photo from the 5-3-2 shop $5 will be donated to UnionAID – which is me making the world better through football. And not being a hypocrite.