Cecilia Brighi CISL:intervento a Conferenza OIL, su Conv. 87. Violazione della Libertà di organizzazione sindacale

Un quadro esaustivo della legislazione birmana che viola il diritto alla libertà di organizzazione politica e sindacale, e i più recenti attacchi da parte della giunta militare.

Burma Violation of Convention 87 on Freedom of association

Cecilia Brighi

Italian Worker representative

ILO Conference 2005

Committee on Application of Standards


Thank you Chair,


It is frankly more than embarrassing, that such issue is once again discussed in this Committee. Last year the committee decided to set aside the conclusions once again in a Special paragraph on continued failure to apply the Convention.

Reading the Report of the Committee of Expert, it appears clear that the government of Burma has no willingness at all to adopt any of the changes requested. In fact the Expert report highlights that "the government did not send any of the requested information particularly on the concrete means  adopted to ensure improved  conformity  with the Convention". 


Still the Government declares that the Trade Union Act is still in force and that no restrictions have been imposed on workers freedom organisation. Unfortunately this is not the case.  Sorry to say for the people of Burma, but the situation is completely different.


Still, the 1964 legislation and other laws and orders examined by this Committee for many years, and the following military decrees and orders are in force. Such laws and orders prohibits and punish brutally, those who try to organise any form of democratic organisation.


 I just want to  briefly summarise once again the key legislative element:


1)       on 18 September  1988, the date of the military coup, the SLORC issued the Order n. 2/88 . which prohibits any activity by five persons or more, such as “gathering, waking or marching in procession, chanting slogans, delivering speeches… regardless of whether the act is with the intention of creating disturbances of committing crime or not”.


2)        this is even more severe when read in conjunction with the 1908 Unlawful  Association Act which states in Section 17.1  that “whoever is a member of an unlawful association, or takes part in meetings…  shall be punished with imprisonment of non less than 2 years”.


3)       On 30 September 1988 the military regime issued Order 6/88, known as the “law on the Formation of Associations and Organisations”. This Order has been at the attention of the Conference Committee on Application of Standards  for many years. This order states that to operate, all ”organisations shall apply for permissions to the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs” and provides in Section 3 (c), that “organisations that are not permitted shall not form or continue to exist and pursue activities”.

4)        Section 2 (b) defines the organisations subject to such procedure: “an association, society, union, party, committee, federation, group of associations,.. and similar organisation that is formed with a group of people for an objective or a program either with or without a particular name” This Order applies also  to workers’ and employers’ organisations.


More over, no mechanism is foreseen for appeal against  the decision, denying permission for an organisation to be established. 


Section 6   provides that persons who violate the order “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years” while persons who are “found guilty of being a member of, or aiding an and abetting or using the paraphernalia of organisations that are not permitted to for  under section 3 (c) or Section 5 can be jailed up to three years”.


The government is also reporting once again, that there are several associations of workers in Burma. Again we have to recall what the Committee on Freedom of Association has already stated: that such associations " are not substitute for free and independent trade unions"  and that they "have none of the attribute characteristics of free and independent workers organisation".

 The reality is that the legitimate trade union organisation: the FTUB is impeded to exist freely,  and the workers  are not allowed to form and join union of their choice. On the contrary they are persecuted or arbitrarily arrested. More over, the  General Secretary of the FTUB: Maung Maung has been repeatedly  accused of terrorism even in these  august room.


The FTUB, on the contrary, obliged by the existing law, to operate in a clandestine manner, nevertheless has succeeded to organise  workers on large scale, inside the country, both in agriculture and in the industrial and service sector.

It has formed clandestine trade unions  which try to protect workers  from the continuous deep violation of fundamental human and workers rights, by the junta.


 It is time that the junta stops accusations and threatening against the General Secretary of FTUB Maung Maung and the other trade union leaders. Only few days ago, we have discussed in the special sitting the still existing accusations against Shwe Man, the trade union leader arrested last year with the false accusation of high treason for his contact with the ILO and the FTUB. Notwithstanding  his final release, after been condemned to death penalty, subsequently reduced to life imprisonment, still such inconceivable accusation is still pending.


Such requests have been done already in the previous discussions, but the reality has remained unchanged. The legislation has not being modified and is still strictly implemented against those trade unionists and workers, who try to organise and to respond to the very dreadful  exploitative conditions in which they are obliged to work.


 this was the case at the Myanmar Guston Moline Co. Ltd, a French owned factory, located in the Hlaing Thar Yar industrial zone 3. On  9 April, a factory representative told the workers that the 5.000 kyats annual bonus for the Burmese New Year  could not be paid . the  450 workers went on strike and asked to negotiate with the owner of the company. Such request was refused. The chairman of Township Peace and Development Council of Hlaing Tharyar  intervened and both workers and the owner came to an agreement. On 18th of April,  4 women workers were arrested by the police who were brought to the famous Insein prison. the workers of the Guston Moline factory went on strike demanding the release of their  co workers. The day afterwards the strike was continuing when both military and police led by major Tin San arrived announcing the closure of the factory for an indefinite period and threatened the workers of arrest, later on the Commander of the Rangoon Division General Myint Swe arrived with 9 lockup trucks for transporting prisoners, and told the workers to leave the compound  immediately or they would ne forcibly removed and arrested.  the four workers were released on the 2nd of May. After such strike many workers were dismissed. Now the factory has only 300 workers.

 We know of some recent cases of arrests or closure of companies,  in response to workers unrests because they were asking for improvement of the incredible working conditions and poor salaries. Many workers are still in jail, condemned to rigorous work (which is a polite way to describe forced prison labour).

 I want to recall the case of Myo Aung Thant  condemned to life imprisonment for trade union activities, and of his wife Aye Ma, who after having spent seven years in the terrible Insein Jail, is now not even allowed to write to  her husband.


On May 21 we have been informed by the Sea Farers Union of Burma: SUB, that one of his organisers Koe Moe Naung has been arrested on May 19th  at 8 pm at his residence in Ranong at the border with Burma, by two unidentified men, brought to a Village based Light Infantery Regiment 431 and  tortured to death during interrogation. Koe Moe was a trade union leader who was organising Burmese fishermen and migrant workers from Burma in the Ranong province.

Gathering on occasion of May the 1st have been repressed, as well as other unrests to protest against  the working conditions. For those who are not oblidged to forced labor, avarage salary in Burma reaches  4/5 US$ a month and working time is of 48 hours per week, plus 12/ 15 hours of overtime  which would be paid at 0.02 US$ each hour if only the companies would be able to pay. In fact due to strict bank regulations, after the 2003 bank crisis, companies cannot withdraw more than 200.000 Kyats per week, that is 200 US$. In such conditions most of the time salaries as well as overtime cannot be paid.

The junta claims that these situation is due to economic sanctions. This is not true. On the contrary, since all the economy is in the hands of the junta, who drains all the profits, only deep changes in the economic structure and in the legislation, could bring  real benefit to the life of the Burmese working people and to the economy. On top of that 49% of the national budget is allocated to the military and 30% of the GDP now goes directly to the military. 


In this regard, to take further time the  government has  repeatedly declared that Burma is a country in transition and that the issue of freedom of association was going to be examined by the National Convention which should have elaborated the new Constitution. Unfortunately we do not see any transition, but the continuation of a brutal regime, that  denies all kind of freedoms and that continue to maintain its power thanks to harsh military  control of all the society and the economy.


 Once again, such justification was already presented by the government in 1989. They said that: “mayor political changes are currently under way in Burma. In particular the former single party system is in the process of being transformed into a multi-party system”.


I recall once again that in 1991 after the  March 1990 democratic elections, won by the NLD, the government  communicated to the Committee that: “even though there has been no formal amendment or repeal made to the Act n.6 of 1964  and Regulation N.5 of 1976 they became automatically defunct.

 The government representative declared also that: “ general elections had been recognised as one of the most free and fair elections.” And recognised that “ the provisions of the law concerning the formation of workers’ organisation in his country,  restricted the creation of trade unions to a single trade union structure which was contrary to the  provisions of articles 2,5 and 6 of the Convention”. We all know what is the true reality. We cannot forget that the leader of the party who won the election: the Nobel Prize Aung San Suu Kyi, is still in house arrest since 9 years and that thousands of political prisoners and trade unionists are in jail since years for the very reason or violating such legislation.


Again in 1992  the government indicated that  the Trade Union Act is the one among the existing  labour law, which have now been redrafted  to meet the new trends prevailing in this country with the enactment of these new labour laws trade union rights will prevail” the Government also declared that “ in conformity with  Declaration n. 11/92 of 24 April 1992 his government will meet the elected representatives of Parliament to decide on the convocation of a national Convention” and that “ the new constitution  will incorporate the rights of all workers to form their own independent trade unions in conformity with the democratic system.”


In 1993 the government  stated that “ after the emergence of new Constitution  various laws would have to be reviewed  so as to be brought into line with it. However  during the transitional period the workers’ rights were being ensured by legislation still in force”


We all know that nothing happened both as far as the legislative changes and in practice.


 Since more than 16 years, the military government of Burma is promising to adopt a new constitution in which the issue of freedom of association should have been targeted,. but nothing has happened.


More than a decade passed since the democratic elections, which has never been recognised by the junta,   and still we are listening from the government the same promises, that have not been maintained . The new national Convention started last year, and suspended again in March, has been deeply criticised as unrepresentative and undemocratic  not only by the democratic Burmese organisations and the NLD, but also  by governments and parliaments from all over the world, including in the region itself by many members of the ASEAN, due to its unrepresentative process and predefined conclusions, which would not put into question  the power of the junta.


For all the above mentioned reasons we ask for a Special Paragraph on continued failure  to apply the Convention. The government of Burma has to put into practice, immediately and  without any further delay the conclusions of the Committee on Freedom of Association and of  the Committee of Experts, thus using the expertise of the ILO freedom of association branch.


Furthermore, in the preparation of the May day celebrations, organized in a clandestine way, due to the total denial of freedom of association, in violation of Convention 87, Saw Thoo Di, a Karen Agriculture Workers Union organizer has been arrested, accused of being the supporter of the KNU, tortured and finally killed on April 28, 2005 at Nah Htee Klo, Kya-Inn Township, Karen State, just before the  May Day celebration. On that occasion in  the same area, Burmese regimes infantry battalion 308,  attacked with heavy artillery a  trade union gathering at Pha Pyat

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