Tonga emergency response demonstrates strength of international union solidarity

When an underwater volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami hit the Tonga in January, the union movement across Oceania responded immediately to assist the trade unionists impacted by the disaster.

On Saturday 15 January 2022, a volcano in the Tongan archipelago erupted, causing tsunamis across the Pacific Rim. Waves of up to 15 metres hit Tonga, while a column of ash over 30 kilometres high rose above the island nation. Communication lines with the country were completely cut, making it impossible to gauge the scale of the disaster unfolding. Those with family and friends in Tonga waited anxiously for news.

For trade unionists across the Pacific, the Tonga Public Services Association (PSA) has played an exemplary role in fostering unionism in the region, with Secretary General Mele Amanaki serving as Titular member of PSI's Asia Pacific Regional Executive Committee. PSI coordinated with affiliates in Oceania in a bid to contact Mele, while issuing a statement of solidarity and call for donations.

The solidarity fund for Tonga received donations from public sector unions in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, and further afield, in Sweden. Many unions coordinated appeals for workers to donate, and the ACTU and NZCTU also contributed. Overall, over $50,000 (AUD) was raised.

On Monday 24 January contact was established with Mele, who stressed that there was a great need for clean water, with the rainwater tanks most workers are reliant on for drinking supply spoiled by falling ash.

In response, the NZ Public Services Association Pasefika Network coordinated the buying of the water cleaning equipment and secured free shipping to Tonga. Money from the solidarity fund is being used to establish clean water supplies for workers and aid union members and those most in need whose homes were destroyed by the tsunami.