Ruben D. Torres
By Ruben D. Torres November 4, 2022 110
ALMOST a year after the military junta grabbed power from the democratically elected government in Myanmar, the persecution, arrest and detention of trade union leaders continue.
The president of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar revealed the dire situation of trade union leaders in Myanmar at a meeting of the ATUC leaders in Phnom Penh in preparation for the holding of the 15th Asean Forum on Migrant Workers (AFML).
The 15th AFML was held in Cambodia’s capital city.
The AFML is an annual meeting of Asean government representatives, the Asean secretariat, the region’s organization of employers known as the Asean Confederation of Employers (ACE), and those of the labor unions in the region (ATUC). It is a unique tripartite forum that discusses the problems of migrant workers in Asean, which deliberates on policy recommendations and submits the same to the Asean Secretariat and to the governments of the affiliated states.
On Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2022, the Asean Trade Union Council (ATUC), the regional confederation of 18 national labor centers in 9 of the 10 Asean member states, withdrew its participation in the 15th Asean Forum on Migrant Labor (AFML) held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
This writer, as the general secretary of the ATUC, delivered a statement at the opening of the forum, stating that ATUC was withdrawing its participation in protest against the Asean Forum on Migrant Labor’s decision to accredit a labor organization chosen by the military junta. The junta-designated workers’ organization is not affiliated with the ATUC. In his declaration of ATUC’s withdrawal from the forum, the ATUC general secretary said that the military junta’s handpicked labor organization is “an illegitimate son of illegitimate parents.”
May I share the withdrawal speech I delivered at the 15th AFML Conference, to wit:
In protest and in solidarity with the trade unions of Myanmar
“May I express on behalf of the Asean Trade Union Council, the workers’ gratitude to the government of Cambodia for graciously hosting this 15th AFML. We always enjoy visiting Cambodia, a nation with rich cultural traditions and history.
“The AFML, whose 15th session we hold today and tomorrow, is a unique forum for the crafting of policy proposals and measures to improve the working lives of migrant workers and submit the same to the Asean and to the governments of the affiliated states. The AFML is unique in the sense that it is a tripartite discussion and decision body. It is composed of governments of the Asean member states, the organizations of employers and of the trade unions in the region, and with a robust participation of nongovernment organizations.
“AFML is indeed a healthy sign that in the Asean, tripartism is being observed in an entire region composed of 10 sovereign states. The past 14 sessions of this unique social dialogue have been found to have been effective forums for the exchange of ideas and good practices among government, employers, unions and NGOs. It has been generously supported by the International Labor Organization in terms of financial and human resources in the persons of the ILO experts who are in attendance today.
“Tripartism, however, works when the partners treat each other as equals and respect each other’s principles and core values.
“In the past, AFML workers’ representatives were nominated by the trade unions, the ILO and ATUC. Last year and in this year’s session, the representatives of the workers from Myanmar were not nominated by the ATUC, nor was the ATUC even informed of this fact prior to the holding of the event.
“The Myanmar representative of the workers in this forum is an illegitimate son of illegitimate parents.
“This to us is a clear and patent violation of the internationally accepted principle of the independence of trade unions that is guaranteed in ILO and United Nations resolutions and conventions.
“The workers of Myanmar have in all past AFMLs been represented by the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), whose president, Brother Maung Maung is also the vice president of ATUC. Brother Maung Maung today has been rendered stateless with the cancellation of his passport and is in danger of being arrested and detained, just like the numerous other trade union leaders in that country. For which reason and for the reason that the Asean secretariat has denied his participation, Brother Maung Maung is not with us today.
“These are the bases of the decision of the workers’ group in yesterday’s pre-AFML meeting to withdraw from this tripartite forum. We request that our participation in this 15th AFML shall only be as observers. We are fully aware that by our decision, this AFML will not be tripartite. In such capacity, the trade union leaders who are here shall refrain from any active participation in the deliberations today and tomorrow.
“We regret this decision, but it is the only course available to us that will not render meaningless the principles that led us to organize workers in the enterprise, at the national and the regional levels. What is a union without its independence? To borrow a line from Shakespeare, ‘lilies that fester smell worse than weeds.’
“Again, it is with deep regret and sorrow that we are doing this and we humbly request the delegates to this forum understanding of the decision we have made.
“Thank you and good day. May all of us be free from Covid and oppression!”
In the 15th session, the AFML has lost its third leg.
For after all, labor matters.