New Delhi (Mizzima) – Aspiring trade unionists had their request to form a national industrial and farm workers union flatly rejected yesterday by police carrying the response from junta leader Senior General Than Shwe, according to the workers’ representatives.
Rangoon Division Western District Police Colonel Aung Daing met seven workers’ representatives at his station and told them forming a trade union would be “unlawful” and that police would take action if they went ahead.
Twenty-two trade union activists including eminent labour rights lawyer Pho Phyu had told the junta leader in a letter that they intended to form a “Trade Union for the Protection of National Industrial Workers’ and Farmers’ Interests” and asked for permission to do so.
“No right at all to form such union. It’s unlawful, they told us”, Pho Phyu said.
According to Pho Phyu, they responded to authorities that to protect the rights of workers and farmers that they would go ahead with their plan at the risk of being arrested and imprisoned.
“The working people and Burmese citizens have suffered bitterly for many years, even many decades. Now it’s time for a trade union for them”, he said.
But this was not the first rejection or fierce reaction from authorities Pho Phyu has experienced. He represented farmers whose lands were seized by the army and then he himself was imprisoned last March. He was released from prison just three months ago.
If they went ahead with their trade union, it would be considered “unlawful association” and a violation of the law. Moreover publishing and printing about this organisation will be in violation of the printers and publishers act and will be subjected to stern action, Aung Daing told the workers’ representatives.
In the early morning on the same day, Labour Department Director-General Thet Naing Oo also met trade union leaders and told them to wait until the new government takes office after the general election.
Though it was a private meeting, about 20 intelligence personnel watched the unionists and took photographs and video recordings.
Tin Oo, vice-chairman of main opposition party, the National League for Democracy , said the government should not make such a prohibition.
Other trade union leaders who met with authorities are Par Lay and Win Naing from Taungdwingyi, Kyi Lin from South Dagon Township, Ma Nwe Yee Win from Tharyarwady, Khaing Thazin from Hlaingtharyar and Aye Chan Pye from Shwepyithar.
Federation of Trade Unions of Burma joint general-secretary Dr. Zaw Win Aung said: “The regime should enact laws permitting freedom to form trade unions and they should eliminate all hurdles and obstacles to that end.”
Out of the more than 2,100 political prisoners behind bars, 15 are trade union activists, Bo Kyi said. He is joint general-secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, based in Thailand.
The successive military regimes since 1962 have banned unions and deprived Burmese of the right to freedom of association, but rebellion against these abuses have increased in the past year.
Workers at private industries have staged at least 10 strikes since December, demanding better wages and work environments.