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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Burma

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Burma, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 50,000,000
Capital: Naypyidaw (Pyinmana)
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87

Harsh repression against all forms of trade union activity remained in place, and the ILO expressed its deep concern with the situation. The Federation of Trade Unions-Burma is still considered an illegal organisation.

Trade union rights in law

Trade union rights are not secured in law, and are further limited by military orders and decrees. The 2008 Constitution stipulates that "necessary laws to protect the rights of workers" shall be enacted, but is silent on the content of those laws. While a union can be formed if it represents 50% of the workers, it is conditioned on not being "contrary to the laws enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquillity, or public order and morality". All organisations need to obtain permission to exist from the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs, and union organising is further hampered by the single trade union system in place since 1964. In addition, trade union activities are seriously limited by Order 2/88, which bans any activity of five persons or more, such as gathering or marching in procession, and further stipulates that blocking roads, demonstrating en masse, and interfering with people carrying out security duties are prohibited.

The right to collective bargaining is not recognised, and industrial disputes are covered by the Trade Disputes Act, which includes a number of provisions that are not in conformity with international standards. The penalties for disregarding these laws are extensive, and may entail imprisonment of up to five years.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Despite Burma's ruling junta's, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), promise to conduct free and fair elections in 2010, the violent repression of basic rights continued unabated. As of 5 December 2009, 2,173 political prisoners languished in Burma's jails. In 2009, the military regime also sentenced Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 more months of house arrest after conducting a trial that was universally rejected as ludicrous. The ILO expressed its "serious concern on the continued human rights violations in Myanmar and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi" and other political prisoners.

ILO's strong concerns regarding trade union rights and civil liberties violations: The ILO "most strongly deplores the serious alleged acts of murder, arrest, detention, torture and sentencing to many years of imprisonment of trade unionists for the exercise of ordinary trade union activities, including the mere sending of information to the FTUB and participation in May Day activities". The ILO has urged the Government to provide information on measures adopted and instructions issued so as to ensure respect for the fundamental civil liberties of trade union members and officers and to take all necessary measures to release all those who have been imprisoned for the exercise of trade union activities. It has also asked the government to ensure that no worker is sanctioned for the exercise of such activities, in particular for having contacts with workers' organizations of their own choosing.

Furthermore, the ILO has urged the Government to indicate all measures taken, including instructions issued, to ensure the free operation of any form of organization of collective representation of workers, freely chosen by them to defend and promote their economic and social interests, including organisations which operate in exile. The ILO has also called on the release of Su Su Nway, Min Aung, and labour activists Thurein Aung, Kyaw Kyaw, Wai Linn, Nyi Nyi Zaw, Kyaw Min, and Myo Min, who remain in prison.

Child labour widespread: According to a 23 January media report, aid workers in the Irrawaddy Delta said that Burmese businessmen, fishermen and farmers are using children aged 10-15 as labourers because they work for much lower wages than adults – between 300 and 1,000 kyat (USD 0.25 – 0.85) per day for children, compared to wages of 1,500 to 3,000 kyat (USD 1.25 – 2.50) per day for adults.

No trade unions allowed: There is a complete lack of legally registered workers' organisations in Burma. Any workers' organisation has to function underground, and its members face constant threats of repression and reprisal, including detention, torture and criminal prosecution.

FTUB still considered an illegal organisation: Despite the ITUC and the ILO insisting that the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB) be recognised as an official workers' organisation, it is still considered an illegal organisation. The FTUB has been forced to operate clandestinely since its inception in 1991. It maintains structures both inside and outside the country including underground unions in key industrial sectors in Burma proper, and operates in all the major cities of the country. It actively collects evidence of violations of workers' rights and monitors the denial of collective bargaining rights in industrial sectors, as well as evidence of forced labour, which it communicates to the ILO and to the international labour movement. FTUB members caught doing so are accused of treason and other offences and have been sentenced to life imprisonment, and in some cases have incurred the death penalty.

Forced labour as pervasive as ever: The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)'s policy of using forced labour is as prevalent today as when it was first addressed by the ILO in 1998; ILO experts say that exploitation remains rampant in Burma. On 6 June, the ILO called on the SPDC to amend a provision in the country's new constitution that could be interpreted as justifying forced labour, and concluded in a special session that the steps taken by the ruling junta towards eradicating forced labour were "totally inadequate". According to a 4 November report by the ILO Liaison Officer in Rangoon, there were 71 forced labour complaints filed from 16 May to 28 October 2009, a 129% increase from the same period in 2008. The latest filings included 17 cases of forced labour and 52 cases of under-age recruitment into the SPDC army.

The report also noted that the SPDC subjected complainants and other persons associated with complaints to judicial retaliation, including the filing of criminal charges. All the cases of retaliation stemmed from complaints filed over the use of forced labour by 328 farmers in Magwe Division. In some of the cases the SPDC jailed 12 complainants for up to four years and nine months for "trespassing" on land that they owned, forced complainants to sign confessions to renounce their original complaints, and refused to implement a settlement to return land to complainants and jailed those who came to their aid. The SPDC's abuse of Rohingya in Arakan State also intensified with the resumption of the building of the Burma-Bangladesh border fence in early October. On 28 October, it was reported that the SPDC Army ordered 200 Rohingya in Northern Arakan State to perform forced labour for the border fence construction each day.

Deaths from forced labour: On 3 February, two villagers in Kyauktada Township, Pegu Division, died while performing forced labour when the pit in which they were working collapsed. On 6 February, a 50-year-old man from Kyauktalone Village, Pegu Division, died as a result of injuries he sustained while performing forced labour in digging a trench.

FTUB activists arrested: On 1 April, the State Peace and Development Council police arrested five labour activists after they attended the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB) Labour Congress. Following interventions by both the ILO and the ITUC, all five were released on 10 April, after being warned to cease all dealings with the FTUB.

Worker protest quickly suppressed: On 17 December, about 1,300 workers of the Wong Houng Hand textile factory in Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone 3 just outside of Rangoon staged a demonstration after submitting demands three days earlier including a pay increase, better working conditions, and medical allowances. State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) authorities sent a large number of security personnel to the factory as a result of the demonstration. The security personnel cleared demonstrators from the perimeter of the factory and tightened security in order to stop the protests. Workers at the factory also said that supervisors have been mistreating workers and forcing them to sign "confessions" of alleged wrongdoing.

Land confiscation and retaliation for contacting the ILO: On 23 January, a court in Magwe Division sentenced labour activist Zaw Htay to 10 years in prison for his activities to aid and assist farmers file complaints with the ILO over the confiscation of their land by State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Army authorities. Judges concluded that he was guilty of leaking sensitive national information by taking photographs of land seized by the army for the report to the ILO. Zaw Htay had been detained since October, 2008, and he and three farmers had been tortured and illegally detained inside an army compound before being brought before a judge for the first time in December, 2008 (see the 2009 edition of the Survey).

On 10 December, two farmers, Nyan Myint and Thura Aung, from Aunglan in Magwe Division were sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of misappropriation and damages to public property. In 2007, the two farmers had filed complaints with the ILO over the confiscation of their farm land by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Army. In August, 2009, a local SPDC Forestry Department official in Aunglan, Magwe Division, also accused human rights defender Aye Myint of threatening a forest manager. Judge Win Myint in the township court sentenced him to prison finding that Aye Myint had failed to prove his innocence a reversal of the usual standard applicable in determining guilt in criminal trials.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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