On June the 9th 2016, More than 12,000 workers from different Yangon factories were protesting in Hlaing Tharyar township against low wages, forced and unpaid overtime, and the firing of organized workers. They were also protesting against the employers’ ignorance against the decisions made by the Dispute Settlement Arbitration Council.
With the introduction of the new labour law and the democratic opening in Myanmar since 2011, workers increasingly articulate inhumane working conditions and labour disputes are rising. Trade unions play a crucial role in helping workers formulating and articulating their complaints. Claiming rights is an important driver for democratic change in a political environment which was characterized by brutal repression of trade unions and labour rights under the military regime for over 50 years. This article discusses the link between trade union’s role in the interpretation, spread, and application of the labour law and the current model of worker organizing. Unions are important vehicles combining legal institution building and democratization trough worker participation. This is important in a context where the labour law, a key pillar in Myanmar’s transition to democracy, is not coherent and the same concepts and words have different meanings to different actors. Today, a multitude of actors, including lawyers, firms, international organizations, the bureaucracy, global and local trade unions, as well as social movements are involved in shaping the meaning of law. Thereby they contribute to the process of its codification.
This contribution shows that law and trade union building are tightly intertwined in Myanmar: Labour disputes have become a key driver for trade union organizing. I point out three ways through which trade union building is linked to labour disputes, shaping the meaning of law in due course: solving disputes through workplace negotiations, supporting dispute settlements through arbitration, and more fundamentally though the involvement of labour in the labour law reform process.
Overall, while trade unions are important for turning law into a social reality, considerable barriers remain leaving employers often disregarding decisions made by the arbitration council and other legal innovations. Read the rest of this entry »