No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law

Same as last year

Myanmar is one of the 10 worst countries in the world for working people.

  • Arbitrary arrests
  • Anti-union dismissals
  • Severe violation of freedoms of speech and assembly

Since the military coup on 1 February 2021, the junta has banned most unions in Myanmar. The coup was widely resisted by the people of Myanmar, who formed a peaceful Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). The response from the junta was brutal, with mass arrests and killings of civilians. The state of emergency declared by the military junta has been repeatedly extended, currently covering 47 townships all over the country. This has allowed the junta to extend the ban on public gathering and apply military court procedures that enable arrest without warrant, as well as the imposition of life terms in prison and death sentences on citizens for exercising their liberties, with very little chance of appeal.

Many union activists remained in detention, others have been killed or are in hiding. It was impossible to exercise freedom of association. Up to 413 trade unionists and worker activists have been arrested for participating in CDM protests, and 101 trade union and worker activists have been killed by the military or have died as a result of the coup.

Workers' rights violations

Right to free speech and assembly

In April 2022, three garment workers at Sioen Myanmar Garment were arrested for their involvement in the civil disobedience movement. Among the three was a union leader detained after sharing political posts on social media. The three were later released.

Right to civil liberties

On 30 December 2022, central committee member of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), Moe Gyi, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and fined 1 million kyat (US$476) at Dagon Myohit District Court on charges under section 124 of the Penal Code. Under pressure, he resigned from the CTUM central committee.

U Pyi Paing Ko Ko, director of Let’s Help Each Other (LEHO), a member of Myanmar Labour Alliance, was arrested on 3 May 2022 and sentenced to a seven-year imprisonment under section 51C of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Kha Kha, a staff member of LHEO, was under arrest warrant on multiple charges.

Arrest warrants were issued to 29 CTUM central committee members and many more regional federation leaders and labour organisation leaders. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, amended by the junta on 14 February 2021, offences under sections 505A, 124C and 124D are non bailable and subject to arrest without a warrant.

Right to civil liberties

Khaing Thinzar, head of communications at the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), and Ei Phyu Phyu Myint, a member of the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), were ambushed as they took a taxi home after attending a peaceful demonstration on the outskirts of Yangon on 20 April 2022. A car rammed into their vehicle and six soldiers then leapt out of the car, seized the women and beat them, before taking them and the driver into custody.

Both were convicted under section 505A of the Penal Code. They have been tortured and sexually abused during custody. Together with taxi driver Nyan Sein, they were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment with hard labour.

The 20 April demonstration was organised by members of the Myanmar Labour Alliance (MLA), the CTUM and IWFM in protest at the military regime. The Alliance demanded the restoration of a democratic society and end of military rule.

Since the military junta took power in February 2021 dozens of trade unionists have been killed, and tens of thousands of workers taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement have been dismissed or blacklisted.

Right to civil liberties

On 8 December 2022, Thet Hnin Aung, General Secretary of the Myanmar Industries Craft and Services Trade Union Federation (MICS-TUFs) was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour and a fine.

Right to trade union activities

After the military coup in Myanmar two years ago, 16 labour organisations were declared illegal by the Burmese military on 2 March 2021, making it very difficult for workers to organise.

The junta continued to exert pressure on trade unions supporting the Civil Disobedience Movement, and their leaders were driven into hiding from military arrest. At least five of the regional and township level unions of the Confederation of Trade Unions, Myanmar, (CTUM) have been pressured by the local labour administrators and have returned their registration certificates.

Affiliates of the CTUM and member organisations of the Myanmar Labour Alliance were pressured by officials and employers to attend the tripartite meetings held by the ministry of labour under the junta. In a meeting on 24 February 2023 in Yangon, the ministry pressured the attending trade unions to dissociate from the so-called ‘terrorist organisations’, namely the NUG, the National Unity Consultative Council, and “collaborators”, namely Maung Maung, Khaingzar Aung and Pho Sandar Soe of the CTUM.

Right to justice

In Myanmar, since the 2021 military coup, at least 402 workers, trade union members and leaders were subjected to arbitrary arrest and were unjustly incarcerated on trumped-up charges. Many public sector workers were subject to arrest as part of reprisals targeting those who took part in strike action, or who subsequently supported the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) – teachers, bank workers, transport workers, doctors and nurses. Thousands of teachers throughout the country were blacklisted and targeted for arrest, because the military feared they would join or support the CDM. All those opposing the military regime faced trials before the military courts and heavy prison sentences, including life imprisonment.

Union busting

On 21 September 2022, within three days of starting his new job at Best Choice Garment Co. in Myanmar, a line worker was fired when the factory discovered that he had been a trade union leader. He was told that he had been blacklisted and would not be given work in any other garment factory in the Anawrahta Industrial Zone in Yangon.

Dismissals for participating in strike action

The Myanmar Pou Chen shoe factory in the Shwe Pyi Thar Township dismissed 27 workers on 27 October 2022 for going on strike. The Pou Chen Workers’ Union, affiliated to the Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), had submitted a request to negotiate a pay rise to the Labour Office under the military junta several months earlier. However, negotiations never got off the ground and they decided to take industrial action, beginning on 25 October 2022.

When they were dismissed on 27 October, workers were told it was because they had broken the factory rules by being absent from work. When the strike began, they were prevented by supervisors from entering the premises, and clashes broke out on 27 October.

Two more workers were dismissed in the following days. The workers were planning to file a complaint with the Labour Office.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

In Myanmar, five unionists, including two from the Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), were violently attacked and arrested by military security officers in Yangon on 13 September 2022. The unionists were arrested on their way to a peaceful protest, calling on the United Nations (UN) to recognise the National Unity Government of Myanmar and its permanent representative at the UN, U Kyaw Moe Tun.

A group of security officers in plain clothes appeared, using sticks to beat the protestors and firing a few shots. A total of 29 protestors were arrested. Among them were Daw Zuu Zuu Ra Khaing and Daw Yamin Kay Thwe Khaig from IWFM, U Nay Min Tun and U Than Aung from the Building and Wood Workers Federation of Myanmar (BWFM), and the driver of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) U Than Zaw.

Protesters call for a return to democracy in Myanmar, one of the 10 worst countries for working people. Since the military coup in February 2021, hundreds of trade unions and activists have been detained, killed or forced into hiding.NurPhoto via AFP

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