ITF burma by Gw625N


									                Background of the Seafarers Union of Burma (S.U.B)
         An Affiliate of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF)
                      Current Situation of Trade Union Movement - Burma

The Seafarers Union of Burma (S.U.B) has been set up in 1991 in Bangkok, Thailand in order to
restore and protect the rights of labour, particularly the fundamental right to freedom of
association. The S.U.B is a free trade union and formed through democratic elections. The
International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) accepted the S.U.B as an affiliate and
continues to support us in our work.

The rights of labour that were once protected by trade unions disappeared when the
Revolutionary Council of Burma came to power via coup d'etat in 1962. Trade unions were
disbanded, and workers were reduced to sub-human standards through the orders of the
Burma's union busters - the military.

The words 'Labour rights, Human Rights and Democracy' might be fairly peaceful in other
countries, but in Burma they are 'keys' to jail. Whoever utters such words is charged for high
treason and imprisoned with death, life long and longer sentence. Even his or her relatives are
severely punished through ostracism.

This has been the case for over 40 years because successive military regimes including current
SPDC have totally banned trade unions, independent workers' organizations and independent
workers' associations. According to SLORC's news conference in 1993, S.U.B is accused of
illegal organization and non-existent in the country.

For over four decades there have been no functioning trade union laws in Burma or any legal
structure to protect freedom of association. There is no right of legal address. The military
regime has ruthlessly and brutally suppressed those who have attempted to organize Labour

Burmese seafarers are working without union protection and representation. Their working
environment and living conditions on board ships is inferior to that of other seafarers and their
wages are the lowest. Burmese seafarers are under the State control. There is no avenue open to
them to air their grievances. The State administrative body is the sole authority in making
decisions on the welfare of seafarers as well as any other type of dispute.

The Seamen Employment Control Division, SECD, is a State agency which is supposed to look
after the interests of the Burmese seafarers. But in reality, it does very little to protect seafarers.
Instead it is often seen protecting the interest of manning agents and shipping lines, ensuring
that the seafarers do not argue with management.

The SECD does this by having the seafarers sign agreements stating that:

-- the seafarer will not contact the ITF and S.U.B or any other related international unions
-- if this happens and compensation has been paid, the seafarer has to give back the
compensation to management upon arrival in Burma.

In this way the SECD together with greedy manning agents tightly control the seafarers.


The First Congress of the S.U.B was held on November 24, 1994 in Bangkok, Thailand. The
Congress drew up a draft constitution and the decisions were made by the member seafarers
who attended. The congress made a resolution to elect Central Executive Committee members
by free and fair election. The S.U.B is holding meetings each year.

The Second General Congress of the S.U.B was held on 5-7 August 2003 in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Second Congress amended the old constitution and laid down a new constitution (draft).
The S.U.B resolutions and future work programmes were made by 23 seafarer delegates who
attended. New Executive Committee members were elected by democratic election.

Aims and Objectives

- Fundamental human and trade union rights
- Opposition to the Flag of Convenience (FOC) system
- Safe and healthy working environment
- Decent wages
- Social justice
- Eradication of the military regimes

The only way we can achieve these objectives is for Burmese seafarers to unite together under
an independent, democratic and progressive trade union -- the Seafarers Union of Burma

Support to the seafarers

The S.U.B has been providing a small room in Bangkok which seafarers can use for short-term
stays when they face ill-treatment, poor health, delayed departure date, conflict with employers
and so on.

Future Plans

- The S.U.B will fight with all available means and non-violent ways to reestablish democratic
trade unions inside Burma.
- The S.U.B will continue to advance the welfare of Burmese seafarers abroad as much as we
- The S.U.B will provide trade union education and are currently working with the ITF to
construct an education and organizing programme for Burmese seafarers.
- The S.U.B will continue to respond to the ITF's call for international solidarity.

The S.U.B seeks to promote the material and social well being of seafarers, raise their
educational levels, and provide help to unfairly treated seafarers. However, as an organization
representing workers the S.U.B believe our activities must also have a political dimension that
reflects the aspirations and rights of workers.

To this end the S.U.B's objective of uniting Burmese seafarers is carried through via a number
of means. The S.U.B implements programmes hand-in-hand with international labour unions
and the democratic forces of Burma. In 1993, the International Transport Workers Federation
(ITF) admitted the S.U.B as an affiliate member. The ITF has been one of the main supports of
the S.U.B morally and financially.

The ITF, assisted by the S.U.B, submitted a report to the Freedom of Association Committee of
the ILO, with regards to the violation seafarers' labour rights by the military dictatorship in
Burma. In 1994, the ILO strongly reprimanded the military regime of Burma for not respecting
labour rights, specifically requesting that the regime allow the reconstitution of trade unions
and to cease discriminating against seafarers who seek assistance from international labour

The S.U.B has been moderately successful in achieving results. For example, the military
regime has cancelled the compulsory agreement it required seafarers to sign that under any
circumstance they would not contact the ITF and the loss of wages to the military has been
reduced from 40% to 10%. However, the main issue, the right to free association, remains
clouded by the darkness of militarism.

At present, the S.U.B publishes a Burmese-language magazine every three month to provide
information to seafarers. The S.U.B is carrying out the ITF's Mobilizing Solidarity Policy to
educate the members. One of the most satisfying achievements of the S.U.B is our ability to
assist distressed Burmese seafarers at various international seaports. With the ITF and other
ITF-affiliated unions the S.U.B has been able to resolve many problems and hardships.

The S.U.B has firm evidence that Burmese Embassies have ignored requests made by Burmese
seafarers for assistance when in foreign ports. The S.U.B also has evidence that the regime's
administrative body for seafarers, the SECD, has imposed severe punishment on those seafarers
who have sought assistance from the ITF and the S.U.B. Time and again the military regime
has been accusing the S.U.B of outlawed organization.

One incidence occurred in Queensland, Australia in 1993. Twelve (12) seafarers onboard the
vessel named 'Angelic Faith (Greek flag)' contacted and asked for the ITF and S.U.B assistance.
When they arrived at Singapore on way back after the settlement by S.U.B/ITF involvement,
the first secretary of Burmese Embassy came to see them, accused them of "criminals" and
managed to bring them back to Burma with his sheer abuse of power. In Burma, they were sent
to imprisonment. Then, the ITF and affiliated trade unions stated in their media releases that
"Burmese military regime abducted its own country's seafarers". The seafarers were
consequently freed, but banned for seafaring jobs.

The then State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) held a press conference in regard
with the case. In this press conference, SLORC then deputy minister of transport declared that
the S.U.B was not recognized by them and it was an outlawed organization. Concerning this,
ILO recommended that since Burma ratified the ILO Convention No 87 and the SLORC
violated freedom of association principles provided in the convention, the present regime was
urged to guarantee and respect the rights of seafarers to form an independent trade union for
the defence of their basic rights and interests if they so wish.

(Reference to a copy of Slorc's press conference and ITF Complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of
Association against Burma)

While the United Nations and affiliated organizations have sternly warned the dictatorship for
its many violations of human rights, the regime had not changed its colour, and has in many
respects become more repressive and authoritarian. Warnings to adhere to the ILO's
"Convention 87" and the "Forced Labour Convention 29" have not been met with any positive
progress inside Burma.

The S.U.B is not only to fight for the benefit of the Burmese seafarers but to restore democratic
trade unions in Burma as well. And the S.U.B believes that as long as the military regime is
existing in Burma democratic trade unions will never be exercised and its rights had been faded
away since the military took over power in 1962.

The S.U.B sees that present self-installed SPDC (formerly SLORC) has been harshly repressing
the people by their ironed rules. If anyone who struggled for the promotion of democracy he
will be crushed down in various ways such as rounding up, torturing, imprisonment, and so
on. In doing so, the SPDC will accuse those of being communists, puppets of neo-colonialists
and stooges and axes by CIA and terrorists by using constant terms and obsolete words.

The S.U.B considers that on 13 June 1997 the S.U.B's local representative KHIN KYAW and the
FTUB's executive committee member and All Burma Petro-Chemical Corporation Union
member MYO AUNG THANT along with their families were arrested by the regime because
those two had been struggling for trade union movement in the country and communicating
with the S.U.B and FTUB in Bangkok.

In respect of the case of KHIN KYAW and MYO AUNG THANT, the S.U.B strongly
condemned the harsh prison sentences imposed on them and demanded their immediate and
unconditional release in its protest letter (22 August 1997) to the then SLORC regime. Because
of their sincere involvement in trade union movement to restore free and democratic trade
unions in Burma, KHIN KYAW is now serving a 17 year prison sentence and MYO AUNG
THANT is sentenced to 10 years in addition to life imprisonment for high treason.

Also, the ITF demanded the release of Burma trade union leaders in its press release dated by
24 August 1999. A delegation from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) ship
mv GLOBAL MARINER and the ITF Asia/Pacific regional office protested on 23 August 1999
outside the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok along with Thai trade unions to demand the
immediate release of KHIN KYAW and MYO AUNG THANT. (Reference copy of news item)

The S.U.B and ITF affiliated Thai trade unions jointly invited the ITF ship mv GLOBAL
MARINER to pay port call at the Bangkok Port. The mv GLOBAL MARINER was owned by
the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). It was touring the world to raise public
awareness of standards in the shipping industry, the truth behind the image of the life of

On board the ship berthing in Bangkok Port, the S.U.B staged its activities' photos and records
about military dictatorship oppressive control over Burmese seafarers as well as Burmese trade

unionists with one of the exhibition panels in the ship's cargo holds. The ship's free exhibition
opened to public in Klong Toei Port, Bangkok, Thailand on 21-24 August 1999.

Since the military regime has been oppressing the trade union movement in our country and
accusing exiled trade unionists of outlaw insurgents or terrorists, the S.U.B with the support of
the ITF called for boycott action among the affiliated unions against the Burma regime in 2000.

With the S.U.B call, boycott actions were led and taken part by ITF Delhi Office and affiliated
Indian unions against the regime's Five Star shipping vessels (MV Chin Shwe Haw and MV
Pagan) in Visakhapatnam and Calcutta Ports in July and August 2000 respectively.

In a strong expression of condemnation of the present military junta for failing to respect
international calls for restoring democracy and human and trade union rights, the ITF and its
affiliated unions have always been supporting the cause of the Seafarers Union of Burma,
which is in exile since trade unionism is not permitted in Burma.

Labour Unions in Transport Sector


Since there are little or no prospects and opportunities for the workers to find decent jobs in
addition to the socio-economic disasters perpetuated by the military junta inside the country,
many a number of migrant labour are thronging into Thailand to find their fine opportunities.
More or less, they just find harder life in Thailand as migrant labour.

A recently statistical report shows that in 2004 a higher percentage has been detected in the
volume of Burmese migrants into Thailand relatively with other neighbouring countries such as
Laos and Cambodia. Burmese migrant workers especially in fishery sector are seriously
exploited out of their labor and because of their sheer illegal status, they are getting into more
and more trouble even not only in Thailand but in Indonesia as well.

Taking chances very often, the Seafarers Union of Burma (S.U.B) has been making many a
time field trips to Maha Chai area in Smut Sakhon Province where most Burmese workers are
working both on fishing boats and in fishery processing ground work. Various meetings and
discussions were subsequently followed up. Here is a diary of events.

During 1995-1996-1997 -- Field trips made by Phil Robertson of ACILS and General Secretary
Ko Ko Khaing in Maha Chai area, Smut Sakhon Province and Chon Phun, southern part of
Thailand. Discussions, meetings and correspondence were made between S.U.B and fishery
organizers/workers from respective areas to form a fishery workers union.

During 1998-1999-2000 -- Observation tours made by Aung Thu Ya in Maha Chai area, Smut
Sakhon Province. Discussions, meetings and correspondence were made between S.U.B and
fishery workers/organizers from Ranong Province in southern part of Thailand and Maha Chai
area in Smut Sakhon Province.

During 2000-2002 -- Many a time field trips and observation tours made by Tin Ko Ko Thet in
Maha Chai area in Smut Sakhon Province. Discussions, meetings and correspondence were
made between S.U.B and fishery workers/organizers from Maha Chai area. Some measures
were carried out with the close co-operations with NGOs such as TACDB, Thai Care and etc.

During 2003 till the present -- Discussions and meetings were made between S.U.B and fishery
workers/organizers from Maha Chai area.

    On 25 Feb 2003, a meeting was held for the organizing activity in Ranong, Pajut and
     Maha Chai area. One representative and two representatives from Ranong and Maha
     Chai respectively attended the meeting. S.U.B helped them to have Nokia/World Phone
     1800 mobile for smoothening communications.
    On 10 March 2003, a fishery union named Burma Fishery Workers Union (BFWU) was
     founded in Maha Chai area with one secretary, an organizer and two executive
     committee members. Their report on union formation and its future plan were recorded
     in the S.U.B Office fishery sector file.
    On 22 March 2003, three sub-committees of the Burma Fishery Workers Union (BFWU)
     were established for raising momentum of their union activity -- namely Sub-committee
     on Health, Sub-committee on Organizing and Sub-committee on Education/Information.
    In July 2003, S.U.B has assisted a sum of Bahts 10,000 for their union health activities.
    On 10 Aug 2003, a coordination meeting was held between S.U.B and BFWU for their
     union activities on education, health and workers' disputes with employers.
    On 17 Aug 2003, a coordination meeting was held between ITF Thai (Bro; Somsak),
     S.U.B and BFWU. Meeting discussed the present situation for the BFWU to activate their
     union work.
    On 22 Dec 2003, a mini training on basic PC operation has successfully conducted by the
     S.U.B both for BFWU activists and workers/organizers from Maesot area as well as
     seafarers. We equipped with them some basic skills in PC operation for their various
    On 1 May 2004, a seminar on labour rights was held by the S.U.B. Participants from
     Maha Chai area, Prajuab area, Mae Sot area, Ranong area and Koh Thoung (inside
     Burma) area in addition to a representative from India-Burma border were taking part in
     the discussion to form a labour solidarity committee for setting up trade unions of
     fishery workers in respective areas and transport workers.

Other Transport Sectors

Since the onset of the establishment of S.U.B, it has been doing its organizing activities within
the country through the coming-in and coming-out seafarers who got contact with the ITF and
its affiliates including S.U.B.

After two observation trips by Aung Thu Ya in 1999 and 2001 respectively, our organizing level
could be raised one more step to place some local contacts representing both for seafarers and
other transport workers.

In 2002-2003, we have consulted with Burmese old politician's circle to expand our organizing
scope widely into the western part of Burma neighbouring with India. We have established our
contacts in these areas what we called in our organizing 'Western Front'.

Trade Union education and knowledge could be reached to the increased numbers of transport
workers through our inside Burma representatives. Owing to the prevailing circumstances of
our country, no record (both soft and hard format), however, could be made inside.

Nevertheless, a number of trade unions in transport sectors are now operating its activities
inside Burma. Though they are not fully functioning with the prevailing situation of our
country the Chindwin River Transport Workers Union, the Inland Water Transport Workers
Union (Upper Burma), the Border Road and Transport Union, the Port Labour Union
(Chindwin River), the Chin State Transport Workers Union and the Arakan Coastal Transport
and Fishery Union are to example the existence of free trade unions inside Burma.


Since there can be no genuine and free trade unions under the armed and tight control of the
military junta, Burma's trade union movement is driven into the trend of 'exile' or
'underground' situation. Even those 'exile' and 'underground' free trade unions are running
with little knowledge of 'International Labour Standards' while the grassroots labour force in
Burma are mostly lacking the basic labour knowledge.

That is why it is dire need for our labour force to be equipped with the comprehensible
knowledge of 'International Labour Standards' through education programmes and training
courses well sponsored and conducted by the ILO. The S.U.B is willing to take the leading role
in conducting the labour education courses for our country workers with the support of the ITF.

For our labour rights lacking workers inside Burma, we need to have more labour education
materials in Burmese language and distribute them amongst the workers more extensively. In
this respect, there are inevitable constricts due to our limited financial and material resources
even though we could be able to do the technical translation work -- from the English version
labour education materials into the Burmese Language.

(Prepared and submitted by the Seafarers Union of Burma)


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