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Burmese opposition groups have called on the government kick start the formation of a trade union congress as workers’ rights took centre stage yesterday on Labour Day.
A statement released by the National League for Democracy (NLD) party on 1 May mooted the idea of a congress in a bid to protect manual labour and white-collar workers in factories and workshops around the country.
The opposition group’s spokesperson, Nyan Win, said that the 2008 constitution, which came into force following elections last November, included a clause opening the door for a congress.
“According to international laws and standards, a labour congress should be in existence… that protects the workers,” he said. “So we are just reminding [the government] to start the procedures to form such an organisation.”
The statement also criticised the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO), claiming that despite the fact it had conducted investigations into some labour abuses in Burma, it had not taken any effective action.
Trade unions have been legally allowed in Burma, although a clause in the 2008 constitution states that their formation is conditioned on not being “contrary to the laws enacted for [Burma’s] security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquillity, or public order and morality”. The subsequent definitions for these criteria are vague.
More than 30 labour activists, including eight female members of the Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB), are imprisoned in Burma out of a total of nearly 2,073 political prisoners. Perceived dissent in Burma is often punished by lengthy jail terms.
The opposition National Democratic Force (NDF) party also released a statement on May Day calling for full labour rights and adequate wages in line with inflation in Burma, which currently stands at around nine percent.
“Our party’s parliamentary representatives will work to propose bills for wages in relevance with today’s [living expenses], for overtime payment and to narrow down the inflation gap,” said NDF member Dr Mya Nyarna Soe. He added that the government would also need to stabilise commodity prices and the budget allocated to the health and education sectors.