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Sunday, January 23, 2011

International Trade Union News:

Burma considers new trade union law
( Courtesy: , January 19, 2011 )
            In a surprising move, the Burmese government is set to table new legislation that could allow workers to establishment trade unions. The proposal has been welcomed by the International Labour Organization, which says it's working with the Burmese government to improve workers' rights in the impoverished nation. But the junta's moves are also being seen with scepticism.

Presenter: Girish Sawlani

Speakers: Steve Marshall, Burma representative, International Labour Organization (ILO); Dr Myint Cho, director, Burma Office, Sydney

SAWLANI: It's been almost 50 years since the Burmese military crushed what was then a vibrant trade union movement. Since then, union activities have been driven beyond the country's borders, or reduced to underground associations, as successive governments have kept a tight control on workers' dissent. But a provision in the Junta's 2008 constitution has paved the way for legislation that could see the re-emergence of trade unions. Steve Marshall is the International Labour Organization’s representative in Burma.

MARSHALL: It is obviously extremely significant, the situation has arisen that the constitution that was adopted in 2008 has a provision that makes allowance for the right of persons, particularly workers to be represented, which would lead them to the situation of collective bargaining.

SAWLANI: Burma's military government has already ratified the ILO convention on the Freedom of Association, although until recently suspected trade unionists were still being arrested and imprisoned. But international pressure has seen the government adopt a lighter approach to workers' dissent. Since November 2009, there have been a series of strikes in Rangoon, with workers protesting and demanding higher wages - with little or no interference from armed forces. And as far as the new legislation is concerned, the ILO's Steve Marshall says the initiative is driven by the government.

MARSHALL: It was brought to our attention by senior government representatives that with the adoption of the new constitution, it was the intention to put those principles into practice. It is being driven from inside the government at a very senior level, which is excellent.

SAWLANI: The latest developments come amid calls from Southeast Asian neighbours for Western nations to either lift or ease their crippling sanctions against Burma. And moves to permit the establishment of trade unions could vindicate ASEAN's stance that Burma has made significant progress towards democracy, especially since the release of opposition figurehead, Aung San Suu Kyi. But many are still sceptical about the junta's motives.

Dr Myint Cho is an exiled Burmese who now heads the Burma Office in Sydney.

CHO: I have seen it so many times before, when the previous regime formed a non-independent trade union under the control of the government. So they controlled totally the movement of the trade union in the past. Right now, because of international pressure for the workers' rights in Burma, the regime is trying to use this kind of initiative as a public relations move to relax international pressures.

SAWLANI: Even if legislation gets passed through parliament, Dr Myint Cho doesn't expect the new trade unions to be genuinely independent.

CHO: Under the current military controlled government, that kind of parliament is just a sham and it cannot operate freely, so of course the pressure from the current military regime, the parliament will adopt some kind of policies in dealing with the trade unions around the world, as well as the International Labour Organization. So I don't expect the newly formed trade union organizations will be independent and genuine.

SAWLANI: The ILO's Steve Marshall says while there will be scepticism his organization is adopting a wait and see approach.

MARSHALL: We do need to put into consideration that this is a very major step and we don't know at this stage what structure will be put into place, whether it will be a full liberal trade union type structure or whether it will be one of the other models that exist elsewhere in the world which are slightly more constrained. That is something that we will be continuing to discuss with the government in terms of the structures concerned.

SAWLANI: That legislation is set to be tabled before the country's new parliament, which holds its first session later this month.

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