The Council of Global Unions holds today a Global Day of Action to support the recognition of the National Unity Government (NUG) as the one and true government of the people of Myanmar. More than 1000 people have been killed by the military junta, more than 7000 people have been arrested and at least 5800 remain wrongfully imprisoned, and 26 people have been sentenced to death for their part in the protests. Trade unions have led civil disobedience and strikes, and have helped to organise mass protests. They have the support and solidarity of trade unionists on all Continents.
The military coup in Myanmar staged by General Min Aung Hlaing on 1 February toppled the country’s democratically elected government and installed a despotic military junta. The innate connection between trade unions and the fight for democracy could not be more visible than in the leading role played by trade unions in the resistance in Myanmar. Like workers and trade unions in Belarus, they are fighting for free elections and for legitimate government that reflects the will of the people.
Every day, security forces are carrying out murderous attacks on and bullying of the workers and communities, wide-spread surveillance and house-to-house searches, and intimidation, detention, and torture. More than 1000 people have been killed by the military junta, more than 7000 people have been arrested and at least 5800 remain wrongfully imprisoned, while many more arrest warrants have been issued and 26 people have been sentenced to death for their part in the protests. 300,000 workers have been dismissed and most trade unionists have been forced into hiding. More than 175,000 people have been displaced and the income of 83 percent of Burmese families have been slashed to half. Currently, more than 25 million Burmese people are now living in abject poverty.
The trade unions cannot operate. Many leaders have been arrested or are in hiding after arrest warrants were issued. Collective bargaining agreements have been cancelled, and employers are passing the names, pictures and personal information of trade union members to the military. Employers use the situation to get rid of permanent workers and employ casual workers at less than the minimum wage, in unsafe factories with no Covid protections.
In recent months, the rapidly spreading Covid-19 pandemic has been fueled by at least 260 attacks on health-workers and health systems by a military determined to punish health workers for their role in resisting military rule, Given this ongoing bloodbath, condemnation of the atrocities being committed in Myanmar and the imposition of initial sanctions, while welcome, is far from enough.
Many local and international companies have ceased operations in Myanmar to ensure that they do not support the military coup, and yet several multinational corporations continue to ignore international human rights obligations and have maintained support for the military. Companies must cease any direct or indirect business operations in Myanmar that directly or indirectly provide finance, including through the extraction of taxes, or material support, to the military. They must also maintain, where possible, wages and livelihoods of workers in Myanmar, and hold any taxes or payments that would be paid to the government of Myanmar or holding companies in trust to be provided to the democratic government when fully restored. Companies must respect Conventions No. 87 and 98 and ensure that workers and employers can exercise their freedom of association rights in a climate of freedom and security, free from violence, arbitrary arrest and detention.
Global unions challenged the legitimacy of the military regime at the International Labour Conference, and in June the ILO adopted a resolution calling for a return to democracy. At the 75th UN General Assembly meeting in September, the military junta will once again try to represent Myanmar at the international level. We must not allow it to do so. The military junta is an illegitimate regime that does not in any way represent the democratic voice and aspirations of the Burmese peopleThe National Unity Government should be recognised by the United Nations and other inter-governmental bodies, by the EU, and by governments. That would be a strong message of support for the will of the people and opposition to the outlaws who have seized power.
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