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International Labour Conference Cites Abuses in Myanmar, Nigeria and Iran: Complaints Filed Against Myanmar Over Forced Labour


Press release | 20 June 1996


GENEVA (ILO News) - The labour and human-rights practices of Myanmar and Nigeria again drew strong criticism from delegates to the 83rd International Labour Conference. The Islamic Republic of Iran also came in for mention in a special paragraph concerning allegations of widespread inequality in access to employment and educational opportunities on the basis of religion and gender.

The Conference endorsed the decisions of the ILO's Committee on the Application of Standards which expressed deep concern over the widespread use of forced labour in Myanmar. Its report deplored "the serious situation prevailing in Myanmar" where recourse to forced labour has been systematic over many years, in violation of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). The Committee also "firmly required the Government to formally abolish and urgently to cancel the legal provisions and to abandon all practices that were contrary to the Convention".

In a further development, a complaint procedure was launched against Myanmar under article 26 of the ILO Constitution. A letter signed by 24 Worker Delegates requesting procedures under article 26 said that forced labour in Myanmar is being used "systematically, on an even larger scale, and in an increasing number of areas". It alleges that "large numbers of forced labourers are now working on railway, road, construction and other infrastructure projects, many of which are related to the Government's efforts to promote tourism".

Under the terms of article 26 a special Commission of Inquiry can be established to investigate non-observance of international labour standards and allegations of human-rights abuses in ILO member States. The complaints against Myanmar with respect to forced labour and other grave human rights abuses are severe and of long standing. The procedure under article 26 is usually invoked only in the case of persistent violations and disregard for the decisions of the ILO supervisory bodies.

In particular, the ILO has been pressing the Government of Myanmar to repeal the Village and Town Acts, which provide for the exaction of labour and service under penalty of sanction. Myanmar ratified the ILO Convention against forced labour in 1955.

Myanmar was also cited for "serious discrepancies" in the application of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (No.  87). The Committee observed that "there were no trade unions in the country whose objective was the defence and the promotion of the interests of the workers". It urgently requested the Government "to take all necessary measures to guarantee the workers and the employers the right to set up the organizations of their choice". The Committee also called attention to the absence of progress on this issue in spite of many previous discussions and regretted "that the ILO mission, which was scheduled by common agreement for May 1996, could not finally be received in Myanmar". It expressed the firm hope that the Government of Myanmar would cooperate intensively with the ILO so that the "very serious discrepancies between law and practice on the one hand, and the Convention, on the other hand, will be eliminated in the very near future".

The Government of Nigeria was also cited in a special paragraph for non-observance of Convention 87. The Committee noted that "once again it had not been able to discern any progress despite the observations made over a long period of time by the (ILO) Committee of Experts" regarding "very serious violations of human rights against trade unionists, as well as against the fundamental principles contained in the Convention". The Committee's conclusion regretted the persistence in Nigeria of "legislative provisions that provided for a single trade union system and allowed government interference in the organization and actitivies of trade unions". It insisted that "the Government take immediate measures with a view to the absolute respect of the civic liberties essential to trade union rights".

The findings involving the Islamic Republic of Iran conclude that there are serious problems in the observance of ILO's Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), notably with respect to employment policy toward members of the Baha'i community and members of other religious communities who did not enjoy equality of treatment in practice. The Committee urged the Government of Iran to "provide complete and comprehensive information concerning the adoption of a national policy to promote equality without discrimination based on religion, particularly with regard to posts within the judiciary system, election to Islamic Labour Councils and access to university education." It noted with interest the elimination of restrictions concerning women's access to education, but, in general, expressed "concern with regard to the lack of equality for women in society and at work".

The Committee noted that the Government was ready to accept technical cooperation from the International Labour Office and proposed that the Government invite a direct contacts mission to visit the country. The Committee was obliged to note that the Government was not in a position to commit itself in this regard already during the Conference.

In all, 52 governments provided information and participated in the discussions of their individual cases. The Committee on the Application of Standards monitors the performance of countries in fulfilling obligations under ILO standards and especially in implementing Conventions they have ratified. The Committee this year was composed of 207 members (115 Government members, 20 Employer members and 72 Worker members).