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Asia-Pacific Energy Unions Urge Burma Pull-Out

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7 August, 2005ICEM News release No. 90/2000

Energy workers' trade unions from fourteen countries in the Asia-Pacific region have urged Western oil and gas companies to "cease investment in Burma while the use of forced labour continues".

The unions were attending a regional energy conference organised in Bangkok this week by the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

The Burma pull-out call was unanimously approved by oil, gas, electric power and coal mining unions from Australia, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

The delegates also sent a message of solidarity to the Korean National Electricity Workers' Union whose representatives were absent from the meeting due to an ongoing battle against the privatisation of the state electric power utility KEPCO. The union has threatened to launch a nationwide strike from 24 November if the Korean parliament presses ahead with legislation to split up and privatise the company. The parliament's Industry and Energy Committee is due to consider the draft law by 23 November.


On Burma, the energy unions noted with alarm the military rulers' decision to cease all cooperation with the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In 1998, the ILO found that forced labour was "generalised and systematic" in Burma. This verdict was backed by the world's governments, employers and unions, who meet on equal terms within the ILO.

Last week, the ILO Governing Body ruled that the Burmese junta has still not taken the required steps to end forced labour. The new finding follows an ILO mission to Burma this October. Burma therefore remains in serious breach of ILO Convention 29 on forced labour. Unless the regime bans forced labour by 30 November - and there seems little likelihood that it will - then the ILO will advise companies, states and international organisations to review their relations with Burma, so as to ensure that they do not in any way support or condone forced labour. The ILO will also ask the UN Economic and Social Committee to tackle the Burmese situation. The ILO itself described these moves as "unprecedented".

If the ILO spotlight has remained on Burma, this is largely due to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which has continuously compiled and forwarded new evidence of the abuses. More than a million Burmese are still subjected to forced labour, toiling on construction sites for roads, railways, military installations and tourist infrastructure, the ICFTU says.

A voluminous new ICFTU file, sent to the ILO last week, documents still more cases of forced labour relating directly to the building of the gas pipeline linking Burma and Thailand and the construction of tourist infrastructure. One of the country's military leaders, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, is directly involved.

TotalFinaElf and Unocal are in a joint pipeline venture with Burma's state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) to bring gas to Thailand from the Yadana field off the Burmese coast. Since its inception, this project has stood accused of serious human rights abuses, including the use of forced labour. MOGE has also been linked to the laundering of the proceeds from Burmese junta's international sales of illicit drugs.

Quite apart from these allegations, multinational energy investors are clearly helping to prop up one of the world's most repressive regimes. Another oil company heavily involved in Burma is British-based Premier.

The full horror of the Burmese system is again shown in the latest ICFTU evidence. Men, women and children are drafted in for unpaid work - notably as forced porters for the Burmese army, as the country's long-running civil war continues. Forced porters are often sent ahead into minefields. The beating, rape and murder of forced labourers are commonplace.

The following is the full text of this week's resolution on Burma by the Asia-Pacific energy unions:

Oil, gas, electric power and coal mining unions attending the ICEM Asia-Pacific Regional Energy Conference on November 20-21 in Bangkok, note with alarm the decision of the military rulers in Burma to cease all cooperation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The ILO has moved firmly and decisively to isolate Burma because of the continuing use of forced labour.

We reaffirm that freedom from forced labour is a fundamental human right and condemn the Burmese military government for the denial of this basic right.

We call upon all international investors, especially those in the oil and gas industries, to cease investment in Burma while the use of forced labour continues.

ICEM affiliates in ASEAN nations are called upon to press their governments to use all intergovernmental means possible to make Burma apply international minimum human rights standards in the workplace, including abolition of forced labour.

"The ILO has clearly ruled that forced labour is continuing and systematic in Burma, and our energy unions in the region have made their views very plain," commented ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs in Brussels today. "The world must not tolerate slavery. The ILO is part of the UN system, and the United Nations should now urgently decide on the most appropriate international measures against the brutal Burmese regime - up to and including mandatory economic sanctions."


The Bangkok conference also adopted an Asia-Pacific Action Plan to put into practice ICEM's global "Social Energy Programme" which was launched in 1998 by the world's energy unions. The main points of the Action Plan include:

Unions and the ICEM will increase pressure on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stop pushing for anti-social reforms and for foreign models that do not take local circumstances into account. Unions must be consulted and their opinions must be respected.

Unions pledge to intensify information exchange via the Internet, to which practically all of them are connected. This exchange will especially cover experiences on privatisation, strong and efficient regulation, and dealing with multinational enterprises.

Unions will take joint action to fight against destructive privatisation and deregulation and support each other whenever needed.

Unions will join the ICEM's multinational company networks in the oil, gas, electric power and coal mining industries. They support the ICEM's efforts to negotiate global agreements with corporate management to guarantee union rights and high health, safety and environmental standards wherever the companies operate.

Unions will also focus on internal development and will train officials and shop stewards for strategic campaigning. Organising is a priority, and efforts will be made to build stronger unions and to consolidate union structures.

The Bangkok event was hosted by the Labour Union of the Thai state electricity utility EGAT. This union only recently won the legal right to collective bargaining and union action. The conference praised the impressive campaign mounted by the union to gain these rights and to preserve the unity of the EGAT company which is among the best-managed and most respected enterprises in Thailand. The union has therefore seriously questioned the World Bank-influenced plans to break up and privatise the utility. "Why risk the future when EGAT is doing a good job and guaranteeing a proper public service?" the union asks.