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Building strong unions in Myanmar

29 October, 2014In a country where trade unions were banned until 2011, the founding congress of the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar, held on 18 and 19 October, marks an important leap forward for the trade union movement.

Until 2011, any kind of trade union activity was strictly forbidden in Myanmar. In October that year, a bill on trade union entities was passed. It came into force in March 2012, allowing trade unions to be organized at the work place. Trade union leaders who had fled Myanmar began returning to the country.

In September 2012, following decades of exile, the Federation of Trade Unions – Burma (FTUB), now Federation of Trade Unions – Myanmar (FTUM), and its leaders were allowed to return to the country and to continue their trade union activity. Now, barely two years on, FTUM general secretary Maung Maung counts 622 affiliated unions with 43,500 members – 50 per cent of the 1,225 unions registered in total in Myanmar.

Founded at the congress on 18 and 19 October this year, the Industrial Workers Federation comes under the umbrella of the Federation of Unions in Myanmar. The 30 congress delegates were from the 37 basic labor organizations with 6,500 paying members. Myo Myint from Shwe Mi Plastic Factory Workers Union was elected as the Federation President.

The delegates ratified the statutes of their federation and experienced the joy of electing their leadership through secret balloting. The action plan prioritized organizing, capacity building on dispute settlement, minimum wage campaign, building good industrial relations, and improving working conditions. They will also use resources to address women, youth issues and migrant workers.

Paving the way for collective bargaining

IndustriALL’s training on collective bargaining held in December 2013 led to the conclusion of an agreement with Yes Garment. It is the first in the sector to guarantee increased wages, improved industrial relations and better working conditions.

The campaign for a minimum wage continues. The current average daily wage is a meager USD2. Campaigners are fighting for a raise to USD4. The government has announced that it will undertake a survey on the cost of living for workers at the end of 2014.

IndustriALL Global Union regional secretary Annie Adviento says:

“The unions are optimistic, but a lot of international pressure will be needed for the government to translate their commitment to real work.

We welcome the organizing activities of unions in Myanmar and will continue to support their fight for good working conditions and a decent minimum wage.