Burma’s President Thein Sein May Day published a May Day address in state newspapers claiming the government has launched a programme to eradicate forced labour by 2015.
“Our elected government has been in the office for over a year and it is high time we eliminate all forms of forced labour once and for all, [which] will enhance the eternal principles of justice, liberty, equality in the Union,” wrote the president.
Thein Sein said the government has created laws that allowed for the creation of independent labour organisations that aim to protect workers’ rights and facilitate relations between employees and employers.
“I would like to urge all the workers and workers’ organisations, employers and employees’ organisations to work together with the Union Government in unity with strong determination to build a modern developed democratic nation,” said the president.
Workers and labour activists celebrated International Labour Day yesterday across Burma.
In Rangoon, several labour unions in the region rallied together in Thanlyin township for the first time since Thein Sein’s government came to office.
“Forced labour is not the only labour issue in our country,” said Htun Htun Naing of the Committee to Form Independent Labour Unions. “We need to be able to form independent labour unions and be paid salaries appropriate with their work output.”
The Labour Organisation Bill, which was signed into law last year, brought an end to 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.
Several other labour right activists including 88 Generation Students’ Ko Ko Gyi, and Su Su Nway spoke at the event.
“Although the 1988 uprising was rooted from inside the university compounds, workers were the most important and crucial force that put a full stop to the whole government machine. Had the workers not joined in the demonstrations, the single-party system would have remained in our country,” said Ko Ko Gyi.
The holiday was also observed by Burmese migrants in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Mae Sot, where workers demanded full labour rights and appropriate pay and leave time.