The ITUC affiliate in Myanmar is the Federation of Trade Unions - Myanmar (FTUM).
There have been positive developments in Burma/Myanmar over the past year, though much work remains to be done. In September 2012, the Federation of Trade Unions – Burma (FTUB), now Federation of Trade Unions – Myanmar (FTUM), and its leaders were permitted to return to the country following decades in exile and to continue their trade union activity. FTUM General Secretary Maung Maung has established an office in Yangon and, in roughly six months, the Federation counts over 130 affiliated unions with 18,000 members.
Freedom of association / Right to organise
The law prohibits anti-union discrimination, but does not provide adequate means of protection against it.
Barriers to the establishment of organisations:
- 'Prior authorisation or approval by authorities required for the establishment of a union'
- The 1988 Order 6/88, known as the Law on the Formation of Associations and Organisations, states that all "organisations shall apply for permission to exist to the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs". The definition of "organisation" in the Order is extremely detailed and sweeping, Penalties provided in the Order for punishing violations are particularly harsh and may entail imprisonment of up to five years. The Government stated that currently this law does not apply to workers' organizations.
- Excessive representativity or minimum number of members required for the establishment of a union
- The Labour Organization Law of 2011 (Art. 4) requires a minimum of 30 workers in the relevant trade or activity to form a trade union together with the support of not less than 10 percent of all workers of the relevant trade or activity. Regional organizations and federations may be formed with the 10% of trade unions and 20% of Federations is required to form the Myanmar Labour Confederation. Furthermore, each stage of the building process from basic enterprise level to national federation and confederation has to be related to a common trade or activity. These requirements seriously challenge the capacity of workers to form organizations. In particular, the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma has so far not been able to register.
Restrictions on workers' right to form and join organisations of their own choosing:
- Single trade union system imposed by law and/or a system banning or limiting organising at a certain level (enterprise, industry and/or sector, regional and/or territorial, national)
- The 1964 Law Defining the Fundamental Rights and Responsibilities of the People’s Workers establishes a compulsory and single trade union system for the organisation and representation of workers. However, the Labour Organizations Law still appears to refer to a single labour confederation system.
- Restrictions on workers' right to join the trade union of their choosing imposed by law (i.e. obligation to join a trade union of a certain level e.g. enterprise, industry and/or sector, regional and /or territorial national)
- According to Article 3 (b) of the Labour Organizations Law, workers can only join organizations of the category of trade or activity related to them. The definition of trade or activity is confusing and could be determined in a arbitrary manner.
Restrictions on trade unions' right to organise their administration:
- Restrictions on the right to elect representatives and self-administer in full freedom
- Art. 7 of the Labour Organization Law sets the minimum and maximum of representatives on the executive committee at the local, township/regional/federation and confederation level.(3) Furthermore, Art. 5 of the decree of the Labour Organization Law provides that the term of the executive committee is 2 years, and it is unclear whether executive committee members can run for consecutive terms in office.
- Restrictions on the right to freely organise activities and formulate programmes
- (1) The Labour Organizations Law, Article 25, provides that the monthly contribution by the worker who is a member of the organization shall not exceed two percent of the wages or salary obtained. (2) In addition, the basic labour organization shall allocate these monthly contributions to the higher labour organizations, federations and confederation as prescribed by the relevant labour federation.
- Administrative authorities' power to unilaterally dissolve, suspend or de-register trade union organisations
- According to the Labour Organization Law of 2011 (Art. 33.b) the Registrar has the power to de-register a trade union if the members do not reach the prescribed minimum numbers (30 - 10%). The support of no-less than 10% of all workers of the relevant trade or activity may be assessed on a discretionary power.
Categories of workers prohibited or limited from forming or joining a union, or from holding a union office:
- Police officers are excluded from the right to join unions (Labour Organizations Law, Article 2(a)).
Right to collective bargaining
Restrictions on the principle of free and voluntary bargaining:
- Imposition of fixed and unreasonable procedural requirements (e.g. short time-limits for reaching an agreement)
- The Settlement of Labour Dispute Law (Art. 6 and 7) provides that the parties must reach an agreement within 5 days. After that the dispute is submitted to a procedure of conciliation and arbitration.
Right to strike
Barriers to lawful strike actions:
- Excessive representativity or minimum number of members required to hold a lawful strike
- According to the provisions of the Labour Organization Law (Art. 38), the trade union desirous to go on strike shall obtain the approval of the majority of the member workers. It is not clear whether this refers only to those taking part in the poll.
- Other excessively complex or time-consuming formalities to call a strike
- The Labour Organization Law (Art. 41.e) provides that to obtain permission for a strike the organizers must provide information such as the date, place, time, period, number of participants.
- Other undue, unreasonable or unjustified prerequisites
- The Labour Organization Law (Art. 41.d) prescribes that trade unions cannot go on strike without permission of the relevant labour federation.
Ban or limitations on certain types of strike actions:
- Restrictions with respect to the objective of a strike (e.g. industrial disputes, economic and social issues, political, sympathy and solidarity reasons)
- Art. 41.d of the Labour Organization Law provides that strikes not relevant to the labour affairs, such as wages, salaries, welfare and working hours or other matters relating to the occupational interest of the workers, shall be illegal. This definition may lead to the prohibition of protest strikes and other types of strikes.
Undermining of the recourse to strike actions or their effectiveness:
- Other legal provisions undermining the right to strike
- The Labour Organization Law (Art. 41.e) provides that the strike not being in conformity with the date, place, time, period, number of participants and manner as obtained permission in advance may be declared illegal.
In June 2014, twelve people were arrested for having participated in a demonstration in Mandalay. Several hundred employees of the Chinese-owned Lucky Treasure woodcutting factory in Sinkkaing Township, accompanied by hundreds of supporters, were intercepted by about 500 police officers as they tried to march to Mandalay. The detained activists each face three charges, including violation of Article 505(b) of Myanmar’s penal code. Workers were protesting against the company’s violation of a collective agreement in March 2014. The company tried to force workers to sign new contracts including three-month probationary periods regardless of the seniority of the worker.
The Myanmar Maritime Trade Unions (MMTU) has not been registered for more than one year by the Labour Department. Other unions in the same sector have been registered suggesting that the government favours certain unions over others. MMTU reports the lack of accessibility to information concerning collective agreements and working contracts for seafarers. Violations of the right to collective representation have led to abusive precarious relationships enforced by recruitment agencies on workers.
In practice, over 400 basic-level unions have been registered in the last year, reflecting a strong demand for a collective voice at work. Workers report, however, that some union organisers and leaders suffer retaliation for their legally-protected activity. Further, the dispute resolution procedures are not always effective in providing the necessary remedies. In particular, the newly established arbitration
A means of resolving disputes outside the courts through the involvement of a neutral third party, which can either be a single arbitrator or an arbitration board. In non-binding arbitration, the disputing parties are free to reject the third party’s recommendation, whilst in binding arbitration they are bound by its decision. Compulsory arbitration denotes the process where arbitration is not voluntarily entered into by the parties, but is prescribed by law or decided by the authorities.
See conciliation, mediation councils do not yet have the tools necessary to enforce its decisions – especially as to reinstatement.
At the Taw Win embroidery factory, workers started to form a union and went on strike
The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.
See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike over very low wages. The employer agreed to raise the wages but never implemented the agreement. The workers took the case from conciliation conciliation An attempt by a neutral third party, a conciliator, to aid the settling of an industrial dispute by improving communications, offering advice and interpreting issues to bring the disputing parties to a point where they can reconcile their differences. The conciliator does not take as active a role as a mediator or an arbitrator.
See arbitration, mediation to the arbitration arbitration A means of resolving disputes outside the courts through the involvement of a neutral third party, which can either be a single arbitrator or an arbitration board. In non-binding arbitration, the disputing parties are free to reject the third party’s recommendation, whilst in binding arbitration they are bound by its decision. Compulsory arbitration denotes the process where arbitration is not voluntarily entered into by the parties, but is prescribed by law or decided by the authorities.
See conciliation, mediation council, which ruled that the employer should comply with the agreement. The employer retaliated by finding minor reasons to discipline the workers involved in the complaint. The employer also refused to allow workers to collect dues, claiming that it was not legal. The employer also claimed that the union was not legitimate because of its association with the FTUM.
Workers at the Inlay shoe factory in Bago reported employer hostility, including cases of managers physically abusing the workers. Workers were not paid appropriately for overtime, and they were punished with wage deductions when they were sick. The workers had initially tried to form a union with 30 workers but were told by the registrar that they would need 300, as the factory employed 3,000 workers. The registrar allegedly called the factory owner, who then begun to retaliate against the workers who had supported the registration process. Whenever anyone is rumoured to be a union activist, they are usually transferred to separate them from their co-workers. Workers were also instructed not to contact outside organisations. Subsequently, it is believed that the company registered their own management-dominated union with only 30 workers.
When workers attempted to organise unions in four government ministries, the leaders were forcibly transferred to distant locations when the government learned of the union activity. Furthermore, an anti-union memo was allegedly circulated describing the best methods to avoid a union. The labour ministry explained that workers have the right to freedom of association
freedom of association
The right to form and join the trade union of one’s choosing as well as the right of unions to operate freely and carry out their activities without undue interference.
See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework , but other government ministries expressed that this was not their policy.
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.
Despite the ITUC and the ILO
International Labour Organization
A tripartite United Nations (UN) agency established in 1919 to promote working and living conditions. The main international body charged with developing and overseeing international labour standards.
See tripartism, ITUC Guide to international trade union rights 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 collective bargaining The process of negotiating mutually acceptable terms and conditions of employment as well as regulating industrial relations between one or more workers’ representatives, trade unions, or trade union centres on the one hand and an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations on the other.
See collective bargaining agreement
rights in industrial sectors, as well as evidence of forced labour, which it communicates to the ILO International Labour Organization A tripartite United Nations (UN) agency established in 1919 to promote working and living conditions. The main international body charged with developing and overseeing international labour standards.
See tripartism, ITUC Guide to international trade union rights 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.