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Historic victory for trade union freedom in Myanmar

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6 September, 2012IndustriALL Global Union rejoices as, after a lifelong campaign, trade unions restart operations inside Myanmar. The Federation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (FTUM) General Secretary Maung Maung returned to Rangoon on 4 September, after a 24-year exile in Bangkok.

IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina today stated:

“The return of Brother Maung Maung to Rangoon is an emotional development for the entire labour movement. Our sisters and brothers in Myanmar can count on the support of IndustriALL Global Union as they now restart the wheels of social justice and union organizing in their country. We salute all those who struggled in this brave and ultimately successful campaign.”

Now all efforts will turn to ensuring the FTUM is officially recognized, with Maung Maung and others as its leaders; support in developing a policy of responsible investment; trade union building with all existing obstacles to form and register trade unions removed.

The suspension of sanctions on Myanmar by a number of countries has triggered international companies to return to Myanmar en masse. The government of President Thein Sein, which replaced the harsh military junta in March, has begun some reforms towards democratisation including workplace laws passed to allow the formation of unions. Over the past two months over 100 company level trade unions across all sectors have been registered, however harassment and intimidation of these workers continues by employers and the authorities.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Council of Global Unions (CGU) plan to open an office in Rangoon, and the ILO Yangon office proposes establishing a legal research and advocacy centre in Myanmar’s biggest city.

Maung Maung was reunited with his wife, son and father whom he had not seen during his 24 years of exile. His return follows his removal from the government immigration blacklist along with 2,082 others in August. But 4,083 remain on the blacklist.

Key IndustriALL target sectors to be organized by FTUM are the garment sector and the mining sector. A mineworkers’ trade union has recently been founded representing 4,000 gold workers with immediate priority challenges of responsible mining, safety and health, and artisanal mining.

An example of the former military junta’s iron fist approach to trade union activities was seen in 2009 when FTUB members were arrested immediately after returning from participating in the 1st National Congress of the FTUB. The three-day FTUB Congress was held in a border area inside Burma, and the fact that courageous Burmese trade unionists conducted democratic proceedings inside highly repressive Burma was exemplary.

IndustriALL’s Manfred Warda will act as coordinator of the Council of Global Unions’ (CGU) joint action on Burma. Warda’s October meeting with Maung Maung has now been relocated from Bangkok to Rangoon.