Wednesday, June 10, 2009
9 June 2009
U Maung Maung
Federation of Trade Unions Burma FTUB - ITUC
Thank you Chair.
In 2008, one able-bodied Burmese seaman died and another was seriously wounded in an accident and the Seamen’s Employment Control Division (SECD), the section of the juntas administration branch for seafarers from Burma, pressured the families of these seafarers not to contact the International Transport Federation (ITF) that covers seafarers around the world, or ask for compensation directly from the company, but to wait for compensation to be awarded in accordance with standards implemented by the SPDC.
This is not an isolated case. It is but one example of the methods used by the SPDC systematically to control Burmese workers and deprive them of their rights. In this case, the Seafarers Union of Burma, an affiliate of the ITF and the SIU has stepped in to assist the families.
The seafarers of Burma work through company contracts that provide less than 50% of the ITF standard pay. Should the seafarers receive more pay than the company contracts allow, the seafarers are required by the SECD to return the extra pay to the companies, or the SECD bans them for up to three years.
The FTUB member who worked on the “Global Mariner” education ship of the ITF has now become an ITF inspector in Houston, Texas, and is handling these cases on behalf of the SIU / ITF and their families. His greatest challenge in assisting the seafarers and their families comes not from the companies for which they worked, but from the SECD, or the SPDC, which controls the SECD.
In Burma, Freedom of Association and Freedom of Expression are strictly prohibited. Organizing of any kind, whether among workers or among public citizens, whether openly or behind closed doors, is quickly quashed through the SPDC’s extensive network of informers, the regular use of brute force, and the overt manipulation of the legal system using fabricated charges.
The shop floor workers in industrial zones of the textile and garment industries, work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for the equivalent of 50 cents per day. Only with compulsory overtime and work on the weekends do they earn up to $1 a day. Even if the workers are able to earn that $1 per day, pay is frequently late. If workers try to organize to ask for their rightful pay collectively, once the dispute is over, the workers who take the initiative to organize are dismissed, although some alternative reason is found to justify their dismissal.
Workers in agriculture are often ordered to grow government project crops for example, bio fuel crops and sugarcane that do not benefit them. In the process, many are evicted from their land with no possibility to oppose this, in violation of the ratified C 11 on the Right of Association (Agriculture).
In 1988, when we began forming trade unions and participating in efforts to highlight the social and economic problems in Burma, we were dismissed from our jobs and attacked by the military regime and either forced to leave the country or face arrest. Our members have been persecuted and arrested by the regime, our families have been pressured and isolated by the SPDC and its thugs. At present there are 38 workers rights activists under detention – all with fabricated charges imposed after their arrests.
The SPDC’s pressure has made labor organizing in Burma quite impossible. The FTUB had to work 18 years in order to hold our first congress in March 2009. Why did it take us this long? Because the SPDC continues to enforce Orders 2/88 and 6/88, which, respectively, prohibit meetings of five or more persons and require the SPDC’s permission to form any type of organization. Our delegates arrested after our congress is proof of that. These Orders are clear violations of the SPDC’s obligations under its ILO treaty obligations.
Burma needs to comprehensively reform, both the constitution and legislation in order for workers rights to be protected. Not only must workers be guaranteed basic rights, such as Freedom of Association and Expression, but they must also be provided with education on their rights. The junta now has orchestrated voting for a workers representative. Having workers vote for a representative without knowing why they are voting, and that representative who does not understand his responsibilities, is not the way to introduce freedom of association or the means to develop independent trade unions.
Nor should it be allowed to be the way to avoid implementing the recommendations of the ILO, as the SPDC is doing.
As reported by the Committee of Experts, Section 354 of the junta’s new constitution, imposed under duress, will give rise to continued violations of freedom of association in both law and in practice. Section 354 is but one reason why the FTUB has rejected the SPDC’s constitution.
To support workers in Burma, we ask that the ILO in consultation with the Workers Group issue clear recommendations to the SPDC on steps it must take to meet its ILO treaty obligations, so that its legislation provides for Freedom of Association and is brought into compliance with international standards, and these steps are timebound. Enforcement actions must be prepared by the ILO to ensure no further delays by the junta.
We call for the full recognition of the FTUB as the legitimate trade union, working through peaceful and non-violent means inside Burma.
Before the junta imposes their constitution on the people in 2010, we call on the ILO and all of its members to do everything in their power to work with the ILO, particularly on the needed reviews of the junta’s constitution.