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March 28, 2022

ILO issues probe into worker rights in Myanmar

The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) is launching an investigation into worker rights in Myanmar.

By Fi Forrest

The ILO’s Commission of Inquiry is in response to what it calls the non-observance of International Labour Standards in Myanmar, following the military coup in February 2021.

The Commission of Inquiry will investigate the non-observance of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) and the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29).  

The resolution adopted by the Governing Body noted with profound concern “the escalation of large-scale lethal violence against civilians, including children, and the arrest and torture of Aung Ko Latt, a member of the Mahlwagone Railway Union,” and called on the military to end such action immediately. 

It also deplored the “continued harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests and detentions of labour activists, trade unionists and others, including the Rohingya, in the exercise of their human rights.” 

Myanmar should ensure that workers’ and employers’ organisations are able to exercise their rights in a climate of freedom and security, free from violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, the resolution says. 

In the ILO’s Report on Myanmar, the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) reports that almost three quarters of factories saw a decrease in orders between January and September 2021. Export values in 2021 decreased by almost a third compared to 2020, and around 200 factories have closed since 2020 and more than 150,000 workers, mostly women, have lost their jobs, which has affected the livelihoods of their families. The MGMA also reports that a strain on the banking sector is also a key challenge, which is causing difficulties in accessing cash for salary payments. The MGMA says it has been supporting its members, with the ILO’s assistance, in conducting a Voluntary Labour Compliance Assessment from December 2021 to protect workers’ rights in the workplace. 

A Commission of Inquiry is the ILO’s highest-level investigative procedure and is generally set up when a member state is accused of committing persistent and serious violations and has repeatedly refused to address them. To date, 14 Commissions of Inquiry have been established. The Commission of Inquiry will be responsible for carrying out a full investigation of the complaint, ascertaining all the facts of the case and making recommendations on measures to be taken to address the problems raised by the complaint. 

Decisions on Venezuela and Bangladesh were also taken at the 344th meeting of the ILO’s Governing Body.

The ILO said the organisation took note of a report by the Government of Bangladesh on the timely implementation of a road map intended to address outstanding issues mentioned in a complaint concerning the non-observance of Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81), the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98).

The Governing Body deferred a decision on further action, asking Bangladesh’s government to report on further progress at its November session.

Also under discussion was what the ILO calls Venezuela’s failure to implement the recommendations of a Commission of Inquiry appointed in March 2018 to consider a complaint alleging the non-observance of ILO Conventions. The complaint outlined, in particular, “acts of violence, other aggressions, persecution, harassment and a campaign to discredit the employers’ organisation FEDECAMARAS, including its leaders and affiliates, as well as interference by the authorities, lack of tripartite consultation and exclusion from social dialogue.”

Among its recommendations, the Commission of Inquiry called for “the immediate cessation of all acts of violence, threats, persecution, stigmatisation, intimidation or any other form of aggression” against employers’ and workers’ organisations that do not support the government. The Governing Body, reiterated its call on the Government to accept the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.

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