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B) An Affiliate of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Current Situation of Trade Union Movement - Burma The Seafarers Union of Burma (S.U.B) has been set up in 1991 in Bangkok, Thailan d in order to restore and protect the rights of labour, particularly the fundame ntal right to freedom of association. The S.U.B is a free trade union and formed through democratic elections. The International Transport Workers Federation (I TF) accepted the S.U.B as an affiliate and continues to support us in our work. The rights of labour that were once protected by trade unions disappeared when t he Revolutionary Council of Burma came to power via coup d'etat in 1962. Trade u nions were disbanded, and workers were reduced to sub-human standards through th e orders of the Burma's union busters - the military. The words 'Labour rights, Human Rights and Democracy' might be fairly peaceful i n other countries, but in Burma they are 'keys' to jail. Whoever utters such wor ds is charged for high treason and imprisoned with death, life long and longer s entence. Even his or her relatives are severely punished through ostracism. This has been the case for over 40 years because successive military regimes inc luding current SPDC have totally banned trade unions, independent workers' organ izations and independent workers' associations. According to SLORC's news confer ence in 1993, S.U.B is accused of illegal organization and non-existent in the c ountry. For over four decades there have been no functioning trade union laws in Burma o r any legal structure to protect freedom of association. There is no right of le gal address. The military regime has ruthlessly and brutally suppressed those wh o have attempted to organize Labour Unions. Burmese seafarers are working without union protection and representation. Their working environment and living conditions on board ships is inferior to that of other seafarers and their wages are the lowest. Burmese seafarers are under the State control. There is no avenue open to them to air their grievances. The Sta te administrative body is the sole authority in making decisions on the welfare of seafarers as well as any other type of dispute. The Seamen Employment Control Division, SECD, is a State agency which is suppose d to look after the interests of the Burmese seafarers. But in reality, it does very little to protect seafarers. Instead it is often seen protecting the intere st of manning agents and shipping lines, ensuring that the seafarers do not argu e with management. The SECD does this by having the seafarers sign agreements stating that: -- the seafarer will not contact the ITF and S.U.B or any other related internat ional unions -- if this happens and compensation has been paid, the seafarer has to give back the compensation to management upon arrival in Burma. In this way the SECD together with greedy manning agents tightly control the sea farers. Organization The First Congress of the S.U.B was held on November 24, 1994 in Bangkok, Thaila nd. The Congress drew up a draft constitution and the decisions were made by the member seafarers who attended. The congress made a resolution to elect Central Executive Committee members by free and fair election. The S.U.B is holding meet
ings each year. The Second General Congress of the S.U.B was held on 5-7 August 2003 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Second Congress amended the old constitution and laid down a new constitution (draft). The S.U.B resolutions and future work programmes were made by 23 seafarer delegates who attended. New Executive Committee members were ele cted by democratic election. Aims and Objectives Fundamental human and trade union rights Opposition to the Flag of Convenience (FOC) system Safe and healthy working environment Decent wages Social justice Eradication of the military regimes
The only way we can achieve these objectives is for Burmese seafarers to unite t ogether under an independent, democratic and progressive trade union -- the Seaf arers Union of Burma (S.U.B). Support to the seafarers The S.U.B has been providing a small room in Bangkok which seafarers can use for short-term stays when they face ill-treatment, poor health, delayed departure d ate, conflict with employers and so on. Future Plans - The S.U.B will fight with all available means and non-violent ways to reestabl ish democratic trade unions inside Burma. - The S.U.B will continue to advance the welfare of Burmese seafarers abroad as much as we can. - The S.U.B will provide trade union education and are currently working with th e ITF to construct an education and organizing programme for Burmese seafarers. - The S.U.B will continue to respond to the ITF's call for international solidar ity. The S.U.B seeks to promote the material and social well being of seafarers, rais e their educational levels, and provide help to unfairly treated seafarers. Howe ver, as an organization representing workers the S.U.B believe our activities mu st also have a political dimension that reflects the aspirations and rights of w orkers. To this end the S.U.B's objective of uniting Burmese seafarers is carried throug h via a number of means. The S.U.B implements programmes hand-in-hand with inter national labour unions and the democratic forces of Burma. In 1993, the Internat ional Transport Workers Federation (ITF) admitted the S.U.B as an affiliate memb er. The ITF has been one of the main supports of the S.U.B morally and financial ly. The ITF, assisted by the S.U.B, submitted a report to the Freedom of Association Committee of the ILO, with regards to the violation seafarers' labour rights by the military dictatorship in Burma. In 1994, the ILO strongly reprimanded the m ilitary regime of Burma for not respecting labour rights, specifically requestin g that the regime allow the reconstitution of trade unions and to cease discrimi nating against seafarers who seek assistance from international labour unions. The S.U.B has been moderately successful in achieving results. For example, the military regime has cancelled the compulsory agreement it required seafarers to
sign that under any circumstance they would not contact the ITF and the loss of wages to the military has been reduced from 40% to 10%. However, the main issue, the right to free association, remains clouded by the darkness of militarism. At present, the S.U.B publishes a Burmese-language magazine every three month to provide information to seafarers. The S.U.B is carrying out the ITF's Mobilizin g Solidarity Policy to educate the members. One of the most satisfying achieveme nts of the S.U.B is our ability to assist distressed Burmese seafarers at variou s international seaports. With the ITF and other ITF-affiliated unions the S.U.B has been able to resolve many problems and hardships. The S.U.B has firm evidence that Burmese Embassies have ignored requests made by Burmese seafarers for assistance when in foreign ports. The S.U.B also has evid ence that the regime's administrative body for seafarers, the SECD, has imposed severe punishment on those seafarers who have sought assistance from the ITF and the S.U.B. Time and again the military regime has been accusing the S.U.B of ou tlawed organization. One incidence occurred in Queensland, Australia in 1993. Twelve (12) seafarers o nboard the vessel named 'Angelic Faith (Greek flag)' contacted and asked for the ITF and S.U.B assistance. When they arrived at Singapore on way back after the settlement by S.U.B/ITF involvement, the first secretary of Burmese Embassy came to see them, accused them of "criminals" and managed to bring them back to Burm a with his sheer abuse of power. In Burma, they were sent to imprisonment. Then, the ITF and affiliated trade unions stated in their media releases that "Burmes e military regime abducted its own country's seafarers". The seafarers were cons equently freed, but banned for seafaring jobs. The then State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) held a press conference in regard with the case. In this press conference, SLORC then deputy minister o f transport declared that the S.U.B was not recognized by them and it was an out lawed organization. Concerning this, ILO recommended that since Burma ratified t he ILO Convention No 87 and the SLORC violated freedom of association principles provided in the convention, the present regime was urged to guarantee and respe ct the rights of seafarers to form an independent trade union for the defence of their basic rights and interests if they so wish. (Reference to a copy of Slorc's press conference and ITF Complaint to the ILO Co mmittee on Freedom of Association against Burma) While the United Nations and affiliated organizations have sternly warned the di ctatorship for its many violations of human rights, the regime had not changed i ts colour, and has in many respects become more repressive and authoritarian. Wa rnings to adhere to the ILO's "Convention 87" and the "Forced Labour Convention 29" have not been met with any positive progress inside Burma. The S.U.B is not only to fight for the benefit of the Burmese seafarers but to r estore democratic trade unions in Burma as well. And the S.U.B believes that as long as the military regime is existing in Burma democratic trade unions will ne ver be exercised and its rights had been faded away since the military took over power in 1962. The S.U.B sees that present self-installed SPDC (formerly SLORC) has been harshl y repressing the people by their ironed rules. If anyone who struggled for the p romotion of democracy he will be crushed down in various ways such as rounding u p, torturing, imprisonment, and so on. In doing so, the SPDC will accuse those o f being communists, puppets of neo-colonialists and stooges and axes by CIA and terrorists by using constant terms and obsolete words. The S.U.B considers that on 13 June 1997 the S.U.B's local representative KHIN K
YAW and the FTUB's executive committee member and All Burma Petro-Chemical Corpo ration Union member MYO AUNG THANT along with their families were arrested by th e regime because those two had been struggling for trade union movement in the c ountry and communicating with the S.U.B and FTUB in Bangkok. In respect of the case of KHIN KYAW and MYO AUNG THANT, the S.U.B strongly conde mned the harsh prison sentences imposed on them and demanded their immediate and unconditional release in its protest letter (22 August 1997) to the then SLORC regime. Because of their sincere involvement in trade union movement to restore free and democratic trade unions in Burma, KHIN KYAW is now serving a 17 year pr ison sentence and MYO AUNG THANT is sentenced to 10 years in addition to life im prisonment for high treason. Also, the ITF demanded the release of Burma trade union leaders in its press rel ease dated by 24 August 1999. A delegation from the International Transport Work ers Federation (ITF) ship mv GLOBAL MARINER and the ITF Asia/Pacific regional of fice protested on 23 August 1999 outside the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok along wi th Thai trade unions to demand the immediate release of KHIN KYAW and MYO AUNG T HANT. (Reference copy of news item) The S.U.B and ITF affiliated Thai trade unions jointly invited the ITF ship mv G LOBAL MARINER to pay port call at the Bangkok Port. The mv GLOBAL MARINER was ow ned by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). It was touring the world to raise public awareness of standards in the shipping industry, the truth behind the image of the life of seafarer. On board the ship berthing in Bangkok Port, the S.U.B staged its activities' pho tos and records about military dictatorship oppressive control over Burmese seaf arers as well as Burmese trade unionists with one of the exhibition panels in th e ship's cargo holds. The ship's free exhibition opened to public in Klong Toei Port, Bangkok, Thailand on 21-24 August 1999. Since the military regime has been oppressing the trade union movement in our co untry and accusing exiled trade unionists of outlaw insurgents or terrorists, th e S.U.B with the support of the ITF called for boycott action among the affiliat ed unions against the Burma regime in 2000. With the S.U.B call, boycott actions were led and taken part by ITF Delhi Office and affiliated Indian unions against the regime's Five Star shipping vessels (M V Chin Shwe Haw and MV Pagan) in Visakhapatnam and Calcutta Ports in July and Au gust 2000 respectively. In a strong expression of condemnation of the present military junta for failing to respect international calls for restoring democracy and human and trade unio n rights, the ITF and its affiliated unions have always been supporting the caus e of the Seafarers Union of Burma, which is in exile since trade unionism is not permitted in Burma. Labour Unions in Transport Sector Fishery Since there are little or no prospects and opportunities for the workers to find decent jobs in addition to the socio-economic disasters perpetuated by the mili tary junta inside the country, many a number of migrant labour are thronging int o Thailand to find their fine opportunities. More or less, they just find harder life in Thailand as migrant labour. A recently statistical report shows that in 2004 a higher percentage has been de tected in the volume of Burmese migrants into Thailand relatively with other nei
ghbouring countries such as Laos and Cambodia. Burmese migrant workers especiall y in fishery sector are seriously exploited out of their labor and because of th eir sheer illegal status, they are getting into more and more trouble even not o nly in Thailand but in Indonesia as well. Taking chances very often, the Seafarers Union of Burma (S.U.B) has been making many a time field trips to Maha Chai area in Smut Sakhon Province where most Bur mese workers are working both on fishing boats and in fishery processing ground work. Various meetings and discussions were subsequently followed up. Here is a diary of events. During 1995-1996-1997 -- Field trips made by Phil Robertson of ACILS and General Secretary Ko Ko Khaing in Maha Chai area, Smut Sakhon Province and Chon Phun, s outhern part of Thailand. Discussions, meetings and correspondence were made bet ween S.U.B and fishery organizers/workers from respective areas to form a fisher y workers union. During 1998-1999-2000 -- Observation tours made by Aung Thu Ya in Maha Chai area , Smut Sakhon Province. Discussions, meetings and correspondence were made betwe en S.U.B and fishery workers/organizers from Ranong Province in southern part of Thailand and Maha Chai area in Smut Sakhon Province. During 2000-2002 -- Many a time field trips and observation tours made by Tin Ko Ko Thet in Maha Chai area in Smut Sakhon Province. Discussions, meetings and co rrespondence were made between S.U.B and fishery workers/organizers from Maha Ch ai area. Some measures were carried out with the close co-operations with NGOs s uch as TACDB, Thai Care and etc. During 2003 till the present -- Discussions and meetings were made between S.U.B and fishery workers/organizers from Maha Chai area. ï ® On 25 Feb 2003, a meeting was held for the organizing activity in Ranong, Pajut and Maha Chai area. One representative and two representatives from Ranong and M aha Chai respectively attended the meeting. S.U.B helped them to have Nokia/Worl d Phone 1800 mobile for smoothening communications. ï ® On 10 March 2003, a fishery union named Burma Fishery Workers Union (BFWU) was f ounded in Maha Chai area with one secretary, an organizer and two executive comm ittee members. Their report on union formation and its future plan were recorded in the S.U.B Office fishery sector file. ï ® On 22 March 2003, three sub-committees of the Burma Fishery Workers Union (BFWU) were established for raising momentum of their union activity -- namely Sub-com mittee on Health, Sub-committee on Organizing and Sub-committee on Education/Inf ormation. ï ® In July 2003, S.U.B has assisted a sum of Bahts 10,000 for their union health ac tivities. ï ® On 10 Aug 2003, a coordination meeting was held between S.U.B and BFWU for their union activities on education, health and workers' disputes with employers. ï ® On 17 Aug 2003, a coordination meeting was held between ITF Thai (Bro; Somsak), S.U.B and BFWU. Meeting discussed the present situation for the BFWU to activate their union work. ï ® On 22 Dec 2003, a mini training on basic PC operation has successfully conducted by the S.U.B both for BFWU activists and workers/organizers from Maesot area as well as seafarers. We equipped with them some basic skills in PC operation for their various activities. ï ® On 1 May 2004, a seminar on labour rights was held by the S.U.B. Participants fr om Maha Chai area, Prajuab area, Mae Sot area, Ranong area and Koh Thoung (insid e Burma) area in addition to a representative from India-Burma border were takin g part in the discussion to form a labour solidarity committee for setting up tr ade unions of fishery workers in respective areas and transport workers.
Other Transport Sectors Since the onset of the establishment of S.U.B, it has been doing its organizing activities within the country through the coming-in and coming-out seafarers who got contact with the ITF and its affiliates including S.U.B. After two observation trips by Aung Thu Ya in 1999 and 2001 respectively, our or ganizing level could be raised one more step to place some local contacts repres enting both for seafarers and other transport workers. In 2002-2003, we have consulted with Burmese old politician's circle to expand o ur organizing scope widely into the western part of Burma neighbouring with Indi a. We have established our contacts in these areas what we called in our organiz ing 'Western Front'. Trade Union education and knowledge could be reached to the increased numbers of transport workers through our inside Burma representatives. Owing to the prevai ling circumstances of our country, no record (both soft and hard format), howeve r, could be made inside. Nevertheless, a number of trade unions in transport sectors are now operating it s activities inside Burma. Though they are not fully functioning with the prevai ling situation of our country the Chindwin River Transport Workers Union, the In land Water Transport Workers Union (Upper Burma), the Border Road and Transport Union, the Port Labour Union (Chindwin River), the Chin State Transport Workers Union and the Arakan Coastal Transport and Fishery Union are to example the exis tence of free trade unions inside Burma. Conclusions Since there can be no genuine and free trade unions under the armed and tight co ntrol of the military junta, Burma's trade union movement is driven into the tre nd of 'exile' or 'underground' situation. Even those 'exile' and 'underground' f ree trade unions are running with little knowledge of 'International Labour Stan dards' while the grassroots labour force in Burma are mostly lacking the basic l abour knowledge. That is why it is dire need for our labour force to be equipped with the compreh ensible knowledge of 'International Labour Standards' through education programm es and training courses well sponsored and conducted by the ILO. The S.U.B is wi lling to take the leading role in conducting the labour education courses for ou r country workers with the support of the ITF. For our labour rights lacking workers inside Burma, we need to have more labour education materials in Burmese language and distribute them amongst the workers more extensively. In this respect, there are inevitable constricts due to our li mited financial and material resources even though we could be able to do the te chnical translation work -- from the English version labour education materials into the Burmese Language. (Prepared and submitted by the Seafarers Union of Burma)
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