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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Burma

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Burma, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
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

Numerous strikes occurred with workers demanding better working conditions and wage increases. Labour activists unsuccessfully attempted to register a trade union with the military regime, in a country where establishment of a trade union is still prohibited. Workers' rights are not respected and forced labour remains a significant issue.


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.

There have been talks about a new draft labour law.


Background: On 7 November Burma held its first elections in 20 years to elect representatives to the two houses of the national parliament as well as state and regional parliaments. The elections were marred by massive fraud, threats, restrictions on freedom of speech, lack of independent monitoring, and the disenfranchisement of approximately 1,500,000 voters in ethnic areas. The Union Solidarity and Development Party, aligned to the military junta, won over 75% of available seats. When added to the 25% reserved for military appointees, this means the junta remains in firm control of Burma's affairs. As in previous years, the regime's military was responsible for ongoing abuses against civilians in conflict areas, including widespread forced labour, extrajudicial killings and forced expulsion of the population. On the positive side, on 13 November Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest.

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. This applies, for example, to the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB), which is affiliated to the ITUC.

Forced labour still a major issue: At the ILO International Labour Conference on 5 June 2010, the Committee on the Application of Standards once again held a special sitting on the forced labour situation in Burma. The committee found that there were well-documented cases that Burma's military and civil authorities continued to exact forced labour from local villagers in 2009 in all but one of the country's States and Divisions. The committee concluded that the junta had failed to amend or repeal legislation that is contrary to the Forced Labour Convention; had taken no concrete actions to end the practice of forced labour; had failed to punish civil and military authorities responsible for exacting forced labour; and had not provided sufficient support and cooperation to the ILO Liaison Officer to make the forced labour complaint mechanism a meaningful process. The junta has also failed to implement recommendations made by the ILO Commission of Inquiry in eliminating the use of forced labour.

The committee also noted that Ms. Su Su Nway, Mr. Min Aung and the six labour activists Thurein Aung, Kyaw Kyaw, Wai Linn, Nyi Nyi Zaw, Kyaw Min and Myo Min remained in prison, despite repeated calls from the ILO Governing Body for their release.

Forming union "unlawful": On 2 June, 23 labour activists, including labour rights lawyer Poe Phyu, sent a letter to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Chairman Senior General Than Shwe seeking permission to form a national labour union – the "Trade Union for the Protection of National Industrial Workers' and Farmers' Interests". On 23 June, Poe Phyu and six others from Rangoon met with the Rangoon Division Police Department and the Minister of Labour. Western District Police Colonel Aung Daing told the seven union representatives that forming a trade union would be "unlawful". In addition, Aung Daing told the labour activists that they would face prosecution under the Unlawful Association Act and the Printers and Publishers Act if they continued their organising efforts or published any union material.

Labour activists released: Two labour activists who had assisted farmers in central Burma in filing legal proceedings against the seizure of their farmlands by local industry have been released. Myint Maung and Thura Aung, from Aunglan Township in Magway Division, were released from Thayat Prison on 24 August after winning an appeal through the Central Court in Mandalay Division.

Striking workers threatened with violence: On 31 January, government civil servants received a MMK 20,000 pay raise (about USD 20), leading to general unrest among workers in private sector enterprises who did not benefit from any wage increase. At the same time, prices for basic commodities and services increased as well. Numerous strikes took place with workers' demands including increased wages, better working conditions, overtime pay and paid holidays. The government responded in most cases with a show of force and threats of violence, dismissal and blacklisting.

Over 2,000 workers from several foreign-owned garment factories in Rangoon's Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone went on strike on 8-9 February. Government authorities sent 50 trucks packed with riot police carrying assault rifles and shields to secure roads surrounding the zone. Authorities warned the workers to disperse peacefully or face a violent crackdown. Workers ended their strike on 10 February after factory management agreed to a MMK 5,000 (USD 5) monthly wage increase.

Workers at South Korean-owned Lion City went on strike on 16 February, and the authorities sent ten riot police trucks to the factory. Also, about 100 garment workers at the Sky garment factory in Rangoon's Insein Township began a sit-in strike on 17 February. Authorities sent 15 riot police trucks to the factory. About 500 workers from shoe and garment factories in Rangoon staged sit-in strikes on 9 March to demand a wage increase. On 20 August, authorities warned factory workers that if they launched or participated in industrial protests, they would be fired and blacklisted.

While most strikes involved a government show of force, others were resolved by reaching agreement between striking workers and management, such as that at the Grand Royal beverage factory, Super Garment and Kaunggyi Minglar garment factories in Rangoon's Shwepyithar Township or at the two garment factories owned by SGI in South Dagon Township's No. 2 industrial zone.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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