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ILO concerned about forced labour after cyclone

Jun 2, 2008 (DVB), An International Labour Organisation committee has said it is concerned that forced labour could be used in reconstruction efforts after Cyclone Nargis, in a meeting on 31 May.

The Committee on the Application of Standards convened a special sitting on Saturday to discuss the forced labour situation in Burma.

The ILO's liaison officer in Rangoon, Steve Marshall, submitted a report to the committee, which focused on some positive developments that have been made, but said that much more needed to be done to put a stop to forced labour practices in the country.

Kari Tapiola, executive director of the ILO Standards and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Sector, said the committee had urged the Burmese regime to implement its own policies on forced labour.

"It's obvious that the government has issued some instructions on not using forced labour, but they are ignored or they are not implemented and people are not prosecuted and not convicted for using forced labour," he said.

Tapiola said the committee had stressed that all reconstruction work should be done with respect for civil liberties and international labour standards, but said the ILO had not yet received any formal complaints of forced labour in the aftermath of the cyclone.

"We have heard rumours of forced labour but nobody has brought a concrete complaint to the ILO," he said.

"We are concerned, but nobody has brought evidence to the ILO yet."

The committee also raised concerns about the article banning forced labour in the Burmese regime's new constitution, as it contains qualifications which may be incompatible with Burma's obligations under the Forced Labour Convention.

A key obstacle for Burmese people seeking protection from forced labour is the lack of clear information available in local languages, Tapiola said.

"The [committee's] conclusion was that there really needs to be a translation of the Supplementary Understanding and an understandable brochure so that people know how they can complain and what their rights are," he said.

"There is finally a Burmese translation after over a year, but it has not yet been widely distributed so it's not yet available to everyone."

The committee also called for the release of labour activists, including U Thet Wai, who was originally charged because of his contact with the ILO.

A report on Burma will be submitted to the ILO plenary meeting on 13 June.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw


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