Burma’s Proposed Change in Labor Laws Welcomed by ILO
18 January 2011
According to an International Labor Organization (ILO) representative in Bangkok, Burma is proposing new legislation that will provide for legal trade unions to form, which will also have the right to strike. This is a positive sign in Burma’s slow movements towards economic reform, but ILO still has concerns about forced child labor issues in the private sector and by the military.
The proposed legislation will go before the new parliament elected in Burma in November 2010, which will meet for its first session at the end of January.
The military junta ruling Burma (Myanmar) has already passed the Freedom of Association Convention, recognized internationally and set as a standard by the ILO. The freedom of association is basically the right of the people to have representation when it comes to issues like the right to strike, or collective bargaining.
Human rights groups worry that even though this step has been taken towards creating a better labor market in Burma that any unions or associations formed after passage of the legislation will still be subject to strict regulation by the Burmese military regime. In the past, trade unionists were jailed for creating or participating in activities that did not receive prior military approval.
The ILO has been working in Burma in an attempt to end forced labor and has been successful in creating an agreement with the regime that allows people to lodge complaints with the ILO’s country offices. Last year alone, the ILO received 370 complaints, displaying a dramatic increase compared to previous years.
The ILO also reports that there has been some positive movement in the area of child soldiers being recruited into the military, or children being used for labor purposes. Over the last year, 73 children were released from the military due to complaints made to the ILO.
The Burmese military recently released news about a new national program for military service for both men and women that could come into effect starting in 2012. This new program is intended to have a direct impact on the recruitment of children into the military. In the past, Burma’s military turned to labor brokers to recruit underage children into the military when facing issues of recruiting enough officers, as well as issues with desertion.
Forced labor still remains a huge problem throughout Burma. Human rights groups report on whole villages forced to build roads and do other work for the military, while prisoners are recruited into local industries.
The ILO will conduct a further assessment of the labor practices in Burma in February, when it plans to appraise the new labor legislation and reforms.