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Trade unions worldwide increase pressure on Burmese junta


                             Brussels October 31 2000


 Stepping up its campaign for the elimination of forced labour in Burma, the

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has called for

solidarity to help ensure

 that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) takes swift action against the

Burmese junta.

In an appeal issued last week to its membership, the ICFTU was clear that

the time has come for Rangoon to take international warnings seriously.

Meeting in Geneva over the next two weeks, the Governing Body of the ILO

will decide whether or not to put into action a Resolution on Burma adopted last


The resolution aimed at ensuring that the junta complies with recommendations by

an ILO Commission of Inquiry into Burma’s violations of the Forced Labour

Convention (N° 29), which it ratified in 1955.

The measures, if taken, would include calls for UN agencies, governments,

employers and other parties concerned “to review relations with Burma and cease

any relations or co-operation” with the regime which might have the effect of

encouraging forced labour in the country.

In other words, the measures would open the way for economic pressure to be put

on the junta, such as, for instance, a ban on Burmese investments by foreign

companies, including multinationals.

The actions that ICFTU partners are invited to take, in close consultation

with the independent Federation of Trade Unions - Burma (FTUB), include:

lobbying governments prior to the Governing Body’s meeting (starting on 2

November); organising a picket in front of Burmese embassies;

stepping up pressure on the SPDC - State Peace and Development Council,

official name of the junta – by

Disrupting the supply of services to their embassy (e.g. mail, energy,

garbage collection, telecommunications);

“Fax pickets”: flooding the embassy’s fax number with faxed protests

against forced labour in Burma;

“Cyberpickets”: sending repeated protest messages to the SPDC website.

Information on unions’ initiatives will be soon featured prominently on the

organisation’s website.

The ICFTU has pledged it will regularly post fresh evidence on forced labour in


run-up to the ILO’s decision, expected November 16.

The military junta has been under close observation by the ILO ever since

the ICFTU, the world’s largest trade union body, lodged a complaint in 1994

against the forced labour practices regularly imposed in the country.

In 1996, the ILO appointed a Commission of Inquiry which found the use of

forced labour to be “widespread and systematic”. Last June, the ILO gave Burma

an ultimatum to comply with Convention N° 29 by implementing “concrete

legislative, executive and administrative programmes” by November 30 or face

international action.

At Rangoon’s invitation, an ILO technical co-operation mission visited

Burma last week to check upon the regime’s dubious efforts to comply with

international norms. The ICFTU is presently compiling evidence that

continuous and recent use of forced labour, backed up by hundreds of recent

“forced labour orders”, issued by the local military commanders, is still common

in Burma.

If the Governing Body of the ILO decides that no clear framework has been

adopted by the military, the measures should follow. It would be a unprecedented

step in the ILO’s 81 years of existence and should hopefully force Rangoon to

reform its dictatorial practices against its own population.