Myanmar trade unions facing extinction after coup, UN agency says

Groups assisting workers and migrants have faced violence and arbitrary arrest since February 2021 coup, report says.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing surveys his troops at the massive parade ground in Nay Pyi Taw on Armed Forces Day in 2022.
Myanmar’s trade unions and civil society organisations are facing the threat of extinction under the country's military administration, according to a UN report [File: Aung Shine Oo/AP]

Myanmar’s trade unions and civil society organisations are facing the threat of extinction under the military administration that took power in last year’s coup, according to a United Nations report.

Labour organisations and other civil society groups have faced violence, arbitrary arrests, raids and seizures, threatening phone calls and surveillance since the February 2021 takeover by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, according to the report released on Wednesday by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The “targeted persecution” of groups that assist workers and migrants has “substantially limited their ability to operate”, and forced organisers to make major changes to their work to ensure their security and safety, the ILO said.

The UN agency said the risks extended to both organisations that had been banned since the coup and those not officially included on the blacklist, with authorities often arresting leaders under the pretext of “causing fear, spreading false news or agitating”.

One trade union leader, who was quoted anonymously in the report, said there is effectively “no more unionising of workers in Myanmar” as there is no way to legally register as a trade union.

“Trade unions and civil society organisations have provided the foundation for much of the progress made on increasing labour rights protection in Myanmar over the last decade. The current state of affairs represents a genuine threat to their existence,” said Panudda Boonpala, ILO deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific.

“The international community must stand with these organisations to help them survive and continue their vital work.”

The ILO, which conducted interviews with 21 unions and civil society organisations for the report, recommended that international organisations simplify or reduce reporting and due diligence requirements to allow “expanded and more unrestricted funding” for organisations facing persecution.

Myanmar has been racked by instability and violence since the military’s overthrowing of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government.

The World Bank has predicted that the country’s economy will grow by three percent this year, after contracting 18 percent in 2021.

Earlier this month, the ILO estimated that the Southeast Asia country had 1.1 million fewer jobs than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic and the coup.

Al Jazeera has contacted the Myanmar military’s State Administration Council for comment.

Source: Al Jazeera