4 – Systematic violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index

Myanmar

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.

In practice

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Government delays registration of trade union 18-03-2015

The Myanmar Maritime Trade Union Federation (MaPaTha), which reports having 2000 members, first sought registration on 3 January 2013. Despite sustained requests for registration, and repeated calls for its registration from 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
, the MaPaTha is still waiting to be registered in April 2015.

The Government Authorities have often indicated that they would, or were about to, register the MaPaTha. Recent enquiries revealed that the Assistant Director of the Labour Department had planned to issue registration on 18 March 2014, but was stopped. Apparently the Minister had ordered the Department review the application again, as he had received letters from competing organisations, such as the Myanmar Seafarers Federation (MSF) and the Myanmar Maritime Workers Federation (MMWF), which are already registered.

The MaPaTha has indicated that, although they are already registered, the MSF has 500 members and the MMWF has 200 members.

Twelve arrested for demonstrating about workers’ rights07-06-2014

On Saturday 7 June 2014, 12 people were arrested for participating in a demonstration in Mandalay. The demonstration was in support of the employees of Lucky-Treasure woodcutting factory in Sinkkaing Township.

The Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) reported that several hundred workers and their supporters were marching to Mandaly when they were intercepted by about 500 police officers.

There had been four strikes since June 2012. At the second strike 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
, Khine Min, a trade union leader, was arrested for two weeks.

Those arrested in June 2014 were each charged with three offences, including violation of Article 505(b) of Myanmar’s penal code. The article has often been used to punish activities under the premise of “intent to cause fear or alarm among civilians”.

However, tensions escalated in March 2014, when the factory owners broke an agreement with employees. They required the workers to sign new contracts and submit to a three-month probationary period, regardless of their length of service. The new agreement also gives management the right to arbitrarily terminate an employee’s employment.

Border Affairs Ministry also deployed 28 administrators to pressure the workers to quit their jobs.

Thet Htun Aung of the FTUB stated: “Authorities pressured the workers. They arrested our leaders then threatened us, they approached workers’ families and told them to accept compensation and leave their jobs or the military would dismantle their protest site.

700 workers forced out of work after demanding fair living and working conditions19-05-2015

The Kakaungchin Yadana wood manufacturing company dismissed around 700 employees, and locked them out of their living quarters, after they sought to negotiate a living wage and better working conditions.

On 19 May 2014, the factory management wanted the workers to sign a job contract, threatening to fire them if they failed to comply.

Two days later, police and security guards evicted the 700 workers for refusing to sign the contract.

The 700 took temporary shelter at a refugee camp at ShankanYwaoo monastery, located seven miles from the factory. The chairman of the Myanmar Labour Union Federation, Aung Liu, said:

“Now, there are livelihood difficulties at the refugee camp. Even mosquito nets are not available when the workers sleep at night. Labour Ministry’s director-general Dr Than Win came to the refugee camp the other day and asked us whether we had villagers at the refugee camp because there were so many people. Which villagers would want to come and live here? Dr Than Win has been negotiating three times but the workers are still not allowed to enter the factory,” he said, adding:

“The situation is getting worse. It cannot continue like this anymore. If we cannot negotiate at the township level, we will go to 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
. If we go to 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
, it is going to take a while and the workers will not be able to withstand (the living conditions) that long.”

Employer locks employees out of living quarters after strike07-01-2015

The Yess Candy factory in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone refused to allow more than 150 workers back into their living quarters after the workers conducted a strike 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
on 7 January 2015.

The workers were demanding a minimum wage of 30,000 kyat (USD30) per month, and a day off on Sundays. In the end, the workers settled for 7,500 kyat per month.

Despite this, the Yess Candy factory management refused the workers access to their company-provided living quarters that evening. The workers had to seek accommodation for the night at a nearby Buddhist monastery.

Authorities arrest striking workers 04-03-2014

On 9 February 2015, over 3,000 garment factory workers in Shwe Pyi Tha Industrial Zone held a demonstration, to express their support for the establishment of a trade union and to call for salary increases through 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
.

The workers are employed at five garment factories in the area: Ford Glory Garment, Han Jen Textile and Garment, Costes International Co Ltd, E Land Myanmar Garment and Red Stone Garment. They conducted a procession around the factories, holding placards reading “Salary is vital” and “Foreign business owners must respect local laws”.

The workers were protesting the employers’ refusal to recognise a trade union or negotiate with the workers, calling for labour rights and an end to discrimination against workers. They demanded an increase in wages to meet the ASEAN standard and expressed their will to organise a union to help resolve labour disputes.

On 18 February 2015, the Yangon regional government responded to the demonstrations in Shwe Pyi Tha Industrial Zone, and further demonstrations in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone (the two largest industrial zones in Yangon), warning that action would be taken against the workers. According to some media reports, the Government accused the workers of violently blockading the factories and impacting on foreign investment.

On 20 February 2015, the leaders of the Shwe Pyi Tha strike 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
and 30 striking workers were arrested.

On 4 March 2015, security forces arrested at least 20 workers and dispersed others while they were marching to Yangon City Hall. The workers were from the E-Land Myanmar, COSTEC and Ford Glory garment factories.

Hla Hla Htay, a striking worker from the COSTEC garment factory, said that before the police crackdown, the police had asked workers to apply for permission to protest. The workers claimed they had already sought permission but received no reply.

“Police told us to turn back and said what we were doing was unlawful,” Hla Hla Htay said.

“Whenever there are talks, workers and employers cannot [efficiently] negotiate. We have to talk with [relevant] ministers. Now they have also arrested some of our leaders. We are just a few people but the police have a lot of protection.”

The striking workers say they will not return to work until their demand for a pay rise is met.

Workers have also demanded the introduction of a set, fair minimum wage; firm action against employers that break the law; compensation during the negotiation period; and the release of striking labourers who have been arrested in recent weeks.

Aye Sandar Win, a worker from COSTEC, told The Irrawaddy that negotiations with some government ministers have so far proved fruitless.

“They neglected our demands and told us to go back to work within three days,” she said. “Zaw Aye Maung [Rangoon Division labour affairs minister] told us that we were creating our own fate and that there was only the precipice ahead of us.”

Arrest of workers09-02-2015

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.

No right to collective representation18-05-2014

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.

Anti-union discrimination16-08-2013

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 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.

Taw Win embroidery factory does not comply with collective agreement01-08-2013

At the Taw Win embroidery factory, workers started to form a union and went on strike 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 prevented from establishing a union01-08-2013

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.

Anti-union discrimination by government ministries 01-08-2013

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.

No trade unions allowed31-12-2010

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.

FTUB still considered an illegal organisation30-11-2009

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.

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