Myanmar

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

credits photo MARTIN KEEP / AFP

Protestors demonstrate against the coup in Myanmar in an act of solidarity during the Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne, March 2024.

The situation for unions and workers has remained dire following the military takeover in 2021, with trade unionists the continuous target of arrests, abuse, and detentions. Executive members of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM) were targeted and an executive of the Agricultural and Farmers Federation of Myanmar (AFFM), Moe Gyi, was imprisoned and subjected to physical abuse.

More than 300 union members and activists have been arrested since 2021. The junta has banned nearly all unions, effectively wiping out the fundamental right of freedom of association. In response, two EU companies have announced that they will exit Myanmar.

There were reports of escalating threats and oppression against workers negotiating wage increases, including those employed in a large factory serving international brands, involving forced labour, overtime disputes, non-payment for weekend overtime, and denied leave requests.

Re-arrest of prominent union leader

Thet Hnin Aung, General Secretary of Myanmar Industry Crafts and Services Trade Union Federation (MICS-TUsF), had been arrested by the military authorities in June 2021 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour and a fine. He was released on 26 June 2023 only to be immediately re-arrested. He was then abducted and held incommunicado by the military for five months. In November 2023, he was sentenced, without legal representation, to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labour on terrorism charges.

Military breaks strike at garment factory

On 14 June 2023, five union leaders – Ma Aung Aung, Ma Thandar Aye, Ma Ayr Thandar Htay, Ma May Thu Min, and Ma Thu Thu San – employed at the Hosheng (Myanmar) Garment Factory in Yangon – were arrested by the military council after leading a protest for a pay rise of 800 kyats (US$ 0.38) per day. The five leaders and two other protestors were dismissed from their jobs just days before their arrest as a result of calling for this wage increase. On 12 and 13 June, more than 600 workers protested the firing of their union’s executive committee. On 13 June, officials and military officers told the striking workers they could negotiate with factory management and following that meeting, union leader Ma Thu Thu San was taken into custody while the four other leaders were arrested. There has been no contact with Ma Thu Thu San since her arrest and concerns for her safety are increasing.