Activists Slam Labor Laws for Curbs on Strikes



Activists in Burma have criticized labor laws passed last year by the country’s nominally democratic Parliament that block the right of worker unions to conduct independent industrial strikes.

Unions can only walk out after winning approval from the Labor Federation under the new legislation. The body is yet to be formed as is seen by many as the most controversial aspect of the new Labor Organization Law passed as part of recent reforms in the military-dominated nation.

“Workers must have the right to form free labor unions and to strike as well without approval from the federation,” said Ye Naing Win, a labor activist in Rangoon.

Ye Naing Win is a member of a committee set up on Sunday to push for the formation of free labor unions throughout the country.

According to the new law, labor organizations—the activist-friendly word “union” is strictly avoided—can be formed by a minimum of 30 workers in a particular trade. Any industrial action must have the support of not less than 10 percent of all those involved.

Labor activists are concerned that factory owners could misuse their influence in the selection process for key union members to prevent the bodies being truly independent.

“The current law makes sure that future labor unions will be boss-representative, rather than actually representing the workers,” said Phoe Phyu, a respected lawyer advocating for workers’ rights.

He said that the new law, unlike the 1926 Trade Union Act used in British colonial days which it replaced, does not contain important clauses such as protecting workers who actively participate in labor unions.

“The British law clearly states that workers shall not be charged and shall not be dismissed for activities in the labor unions. But the current law does not,” he said.

He also criticized the legislation for forbidding police, soldiers and all members of the armed forces from forming or joining labor unions.

“Soldiers and police are also salaried government servants. They must also be allowed to demand their rights and strike,” said Phoe Phyu.

Photo : irrawaddy


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