Speech by Mr Luc Corteebeck, President of the Workers’ group, on the occasion of the visit by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy and Member of Parliament in Myanmar to the Workers’ group

Statement | Genève | 14 June 2012

Dear lady,

Dear Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,

We the members of the Workers’ group greatly appreciate, and are really proud – emotionally proud – that you accepted our invitation to meet with us following your historic address at the ILC: only a few weeks after the ILO Mission in Myanmar when we had the opportunity to visit you in your famous private family house.

As you know, we trade unionists we have enormous respect and admiration for your courage, and your unwavering commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Your example serves as an inspiration to us and to many around the world. Many of the people assembled in this room today have been for many years at the forefront – in their respective countries – in supporting your struggle, and the struggle of Burmese workers, and continue to do so today. Indeed, it was the Workers’ group that brought to the attention of the international community, and the ILO specifically, the widespread and systematic use of forced labour in Burma. So we used, in this room, we used to discuss every year in the Applications Committee – I was on the Applications Committee for the workers for 12 years – and every year we discussed it and your name was spoken many times here in this room and I want to thank a lot of people who worked on it here. And we also think at this moment especially of Janek who was one of our friends – who is sadly no longer with us (Janek Kuczkiewicz, ITUC’s Human and Trade Union Rights Director, who died 7 April 2008) – he worked for it with his heart, and it’s really good to tell you about him today.

So, through its perseverance the Workers’ group succeeded in securing the establishment of an ILO Commission of Inquiry in forced labour in 1997 which issued recommendations that continue to guide our work today. This process also led to a Resolution in 2000 in which the ILO called upon member States for the first time to impose sanctions for failure to respect ratified Conventions. Later a Liaison Office was established in Rangoon to monitor the eradication of forced labour and to receive and action upon complaints. This Office continues to operate, and its mandate has now been extended to also cover Freedom of Association.

We remain focused on these issues, while also now working to address emerging issues such as securing respect for human rights from the investors – you spoke about these also this morning – the investors who are now descending upon Burma. Human rights, with special attention to the children; victims of forced labour; and young people who need to get decent work. Some of us, including myself, have travelled to Burma recently, and have benefitted greatly from our discussions with a wide range of people – from agricultural workers to other workers, to the union people, and to the facilitators of the ILO, to the Minister of Labour, and of course with you. We welcome the progress we are witnessing in Burma “with cautious optimism” – those are your words (thank you). And we recognize that much remains to be done before human rights, rule of law, and democracy, can be said to have fully taken root in the country. A priority for us is also the safe return to Burma of our Brother Maung Maung, who is here, and his colleagues –– and for him and for them to exercise freely their work as union leaders for their organization, and for the organization the FTUB – to be fully registered.

We look forward, yes, yes, to this opportunity today to exchange views and to hear from you as to how the international trade union movement can best support your work and the people of Burma in the struggle to found the country they both want and deserve. You have our solemn commitment that we will continue to support Burmese workers and the Burmese people generally, in this struggle.

We thank you very much.