Welcome Changes in Burma on Forced Labour and Freedom of Association: Cautious Optimism by FTUB

"The ILO Supervisory Mechanism does work." This was the sentiment echoed by all when at last some concrete steps were seen with regard to the long-standing problems of forced labour in Burma. A Commission of Inquiry was established by the ILO in 1996 to examine instances of forced labour in Burma. Since then the ILO’s Governing Body, in tripartite discussions, have followed up on the implementation of the Recommendations of the Inquiry. Only this year we have seen some changes and at this Conference the ILO will consider removing sanctions and other measures that were taken to force the Government to implement the recommendations. In other developments, direct talks have been established between government officials and the FTUB, including its leader Maung Maung. The following interview with Maung Maung reflects some of his thoughts on the recent developments.

Press release | Geneva,Switzerland | 12 June 2012

ACTRAV INFO: You have participated in this 101st Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva. How do you see trade union development in Burma now?

Maung Maung: This year we are seeing improvements from the side of the Government of Burma/Myanmar and we are seeing that quite a lot of recommendations by the Committee of Experts have been fulfilled.

ACTRAV INFO: Can you tell us the situation on social dialogue between the government, employers and workers now actually?

We still have to start this kind of social dialogue. The formation of trade unions and their registration was very recently passed. So today many trade unions are just starting to form and many have not been registered. So the registration is only in the tens, and this is not much; and also the employers’ organizations only registered about three. So we still have a long way to go before we can have the proper social dialogue between the government, workers and the employers.

ACTRAV INFO: According to the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, how has the ILO machinery been helpful in your struggle?

For us, for the FTUB and workers in Burma, the ILO is the main instrument and the most efficient mechanism that has, enabled us to let us say, to achieve freedom of association in Burma. Because the ILO is the only international UN body that has the tripartite system. And through the tripartite system we can work through the Workers’ group. Being able to participate, and present our views on the situation at the ILO itself through the Workers’ group every four months – we have the ILC and the two Governing Body meetings – so through them we have been able to express ourselves and through them apply the UN/ILO enforcement mechanisms like Article 33, which have been very effective in achieving freedom of association, and starting the system for eradicating forced labour in Burma. So, the ILO mechanism has been very effective for us.

ACTRAV INFO: During this Conference, there is a special focus on Burma after the Mission of the ILO’s Governing Body to your country. Do the International labour standards developed by the ILO represent a credible alternative to help the workers in Burma?

We have already started training our workers on international labour standards. We are starting to see those being applied within our own context, within the different factories, within the different sectors. We are starting to see the trainings emerging. I think this has been done with an ACTRAV training programme; we have it every year since 2003. We are starting to see the basic obligations of those standards in the field.

ACTRAV INFO: Finally, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi will attend the 101st ILC at the invitation of the ILO’s Director-General, Mr Somavia. What does this event during the ILC represent for the trade union movement in Burma?

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is a national leader. She is a leader working for workers’ rights, democratic rights, and human rights in Burma. And her presence not only this year – because last year she did a video message – which is a sign that she is aware of the work that the ILO has done, what the Workers’ group, and also the Employers’ group has done during the whole 20 years that we have worked together to achieve this freedom of association, and also the eradication of forced labour. Aung San Suu Kyi’s address to the ILO will be giving the thanks the people of Burma have for the ILO’s work – being a consistent partner in achieving freedom of association and the eradication of forced labour in Burma.