US officials back new labour bill

US officials have met with labour organisers in Rangoon to discuss the implementation of a new law that gives workers in Burma unprecedented rights to organise and protest.

Five US officials, including State Department deputy assistant secretary Daniel Baer and International Labour Affairs special representative Barbara Shailor, were involved in the talks yesterday.

Zaw Nyunt, chairman of the All-Burma Workers Solidarity League (ABWSL), told DVB that the officials were observing the enactment of the Labour Organisation Bill. He said that Burmese labour leaders would be offered assistance by the US if needed.

“It’s remarkable that they arrived two days after the labour law became effective and said they would like to discuss matters regarding [the law],” said Zaw Nyunt.

The passing of the law brings to an end the draconian 1962 Trade Unions Act that effectively banned all trade unions in the country. Burmese workers can now legally go on strike, with the proviso that if they work in the private sector they give three days notice, and if in a public utility, 14 days.

But problems still remain for workers, despite the bill having been showcased as a key signal of the government reformist agenda. Zaw Nyunt said that workplace conditions were not being properly addressed.

“We also discussed the mistreatment of workers and the unfair salaries, considering our ASEAN neighbours have minimum wage specifications that are essential for workers’ rights but our country doesn’t have that,” he said.

The bill allows for the formation of unions with a minimum size of 30 people, which members can join or leave of their own desire. Workers can legally go on strike and protest for workers’ rights as long as it does not block transport or security infrastructure.

Included in the bill is new legislation that imposes severe penalties on employers who breach its regulations. A fine of 100,000 kyat ($US120) or a year in prison is possible for any employer that fires a worker who joins a union or goes on strike.

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