Myanmar workers remain vulnerable as junta crushes unions — Radio Free Asia
Trade unions in Myanmar have been virtually crushed by the junta’s crackdown in the more than 19 months since the army seized power in a coup, say union leaders and workers that they represent.
On March 1, 2021 – a month after taking power – the newly formed junta’s Ministry of Immigration and Manpower declared 16 unions and labor activist organizations illegal. Activists defending workers’ rights and the groups they represent have since become the target of frequent harassment by the authorities.
In a report released on August 24, the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Yangon warned that trade unions and civil society organizations (CSOs) providing services to workers and migrants “face an existential threat.” in Myanmar after the takeover, citing severe limitations on their ability to operate under what he called “targeted persecution”.
The report says members of trade unions and CSOs helping workers face arbitrary arrests, detentions, acts of violence, raids on homes and offices, seizure of equipment, threatening phone calls, interrogations and surveillance.
The crackdown has left workers at the mercy of their employers and subjected to various forms of workplace abuse, the ILO said.
On March 14, 2021, an unknown group set fire to the Chinese-owned Solamoda No. 2 Garment Factory in Shwe Pyitha Township, Yangon Region, destroying the structure and causing more than 1,200 workers.
Affected workers recently told RFA Burmese that the company has agreed to collectively pay them 2.3 billion Myanmar kyat (US$1.1 million) in compensation, but has yet to do so. and that no action has been taken by the authorities to resolve the case.
A garment factory worker, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said that while Myanmar has a long history of labor rights abuses, the situation has worsened significantly since the coup. ‘State.
“Today, when companies hire workers, they only ask for day laborers. They don’t offer jobs with salaries [and benefits]”said the worker.
“If you like it, take it. But if you can’t accept it, you have no choice but to leave… There are no more jobs where you can claim compensation according to the law if you are fired or laid off.
A factory worker in Yangon, who also requested anonymity, said demanding labor rights in Myanmar is more difficult than ever because there are no unions to fight on behalf of workers.
“If workers unite and there are union organizations in every factory, unions can negotiate and fight against unilateral regulations,” the worker said.
“Otherwise…management will sow doubt and dissent among workers.”
In response to the ILO’s findings, the junta’s labor ministry issued a statement on September 2, rejecting allegations that labor organizations were under attack in Myanmar. He said groups are allowed to form and operate freely.
However, an official from the Federation of General Trade Unions of Myanmar (FGWM) told RFA that unions are being systematically “rooted out” in the country and can no longer protect workers.
“Most unions have disappeared from the workplace. The situation is even worse than what the ILO has reported,” the official said.
“We are in a situation where the unions have been completely uprooted. Those remaining are also in a precarious state, so there aren’t many options for workers.
The official said the junta is currently “hunting” union leaders, while employers are pressuring union leaders in the workplace to cut off all contact with the organizations.
Exploiting workers’ fears
Among the 16 organizations that were dissolved as illegal by the junta in March 2021 were the Solidarity Trade Unions of Myanmar (STUM), the Burma Federation of Trade Unions, Action Labor Right, the All Myanmar Trade Union’s Network and the Development Association work. (ALD).
STUM director Myo Myo Aye, who was arrested for participating in anti-junta protests and imprisoned for more than six months until her release on October 21, 2021, told RFA that any union formed under the rules of the ILO is “legal” and deserves the protection of the law.
“Whether they’re recognized or not…it’s a union,” said the union leader, who spent 45 days in solitary confinement while incarcerated.
Despite the junta disbanding Myanmar’s unions, Myo Myo Aye said she continues to fight for the country’s workers as best she can.
“Most workers are scared. They still fear being arrested or sent for questioning, and employers take advantage of those fears,” she said.
“I want to tell them that there is nothing to fear. You cannot be taken in for questioning just because you claim your rights. While it is difficult to [make demands] these days workers have to do whatever they can. To put it plainly, the unions died without a movement.
According to the ILO, at least 1.1 million of Myanmar’s 54.4 million people are unemployed, most of whom are women.
The workers called on the Ministry of Labor to take measures to reduce unemployment and increase the minimum wage, in the context of rising inflation.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.