The Global State of Workers' Rights - Burma

Very Repressive

Burma's military junta regularly violates workers' rights and represses union activity. Independent trade unions, collective bargaining, and strikes are illegal, and labor activists are routinely arrested. Several labor activists are serving decades-long prison terms. Some public-sector workers and ordinary citizens are compelled to join the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a government-controlled mass organization.

Membership in domestic and international unions is effectively prohibited. The junta designated the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB) as a terrorist organization in 2006 and continues to criminalize contact with the group. The government has also outlawed the Seafarers' Union of Burma (SUB), an affiliate of the FTUB, and prevents seafaring workers from joining the International Transport Workers' Federation.

While Burmese labor law forbids strikes, local protests by employees at large factories do occur. They are usually resolved without government involvement and sometimes result in higher wages.

Despite the ban on collective bargaining, some worker-management negotiations take place through Workers' Supervision Committees (WSC) in government-designated industrial zones. Composed of four workers and chaired by the factory owner, WSCs meet monthly to discuss grievances. The worker representatives are usually chosen by management. If a dispute cannot be settled at the factory level, township-level labor authorities and possibly the Ministry of Labor will intervene.

International observers have confirmed that the government and military still use forced labor, despite having banned the practice in 2000. The junta typically targets ethnic minorities for work on roads or military infrastructure projects. The International Labour Organization attempts to eliminate forced labor through monitoring and the investigation of complaints, which it carries out in conjunction with the government through a Supplementary Understanding Agreement (extended in 2009).

The minimum age for the employment of children is set at 13 in Burma, though in practice this is not enforced and child labor is prevalent and visible. Children are also subject to forced labor and military service.

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