Friday, February 19, 2010

56 groups; open letter to ASEAN; Justice for Workers in Burma

Open Letter

19 February 2010

Dr Surin Pitsuwan,
Secretary General of ASEAN,
The ASEAN Secretariat,
70A Jl. Sisingamangaraja,
Jakarta 12110, Indonesia
Tel : (6221) 7262991, 7243372
Fax : (6221) 7398234, 7243504

Heads of Government of
Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia,
Lao PDR, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar), Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand & Viet Nam,
c/o Secretary General of ASEAN

Dear Sirs/Madam,

Re: Justice for Workers in Burma
3,600 Workers Protest for Worker Rights – February 2010

On 8/2/2010, about 3,600 factory workers, mostly women, from 3 factories in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone in Rangoon, Burma, protested against low wages and the substandard working conditions they are forced to endure in the factories.

It was reported that the workers at the Taiyee shoe factory and the Opal 2 garment factory began protests on Monday calling for higher daily wages, overtime payments and several other demands. On Tuesday, workers from the Kya Lay garment factory joined the strike action.

The workers, mostly women, staged protests outside the factories and inside a factory compound, where they sat down and refused to work. The three factories employ a total of about 3,600 workers.

The monthly income of most factory workers in Burma is very low, ranging from 20,000 kyat [USD20] to 40,000 kyat [USD40], thus forcing many workers to work overtime. Most workers work from 7 am to 11 pm daily. Many factory owners employ temporary workers who have no legal recourse if they are fired without compensation, according to former factory workers in Rangoon. More than 80 percent of factory workers in Rangoon work on a day-to-day basis. Most are young women between 15 and 27 years of age who come from the countryside in search of a better living.
[The Irrawaddy, Authorities Threaten Violence at Rangoon Strike –]

The workers’ demands in these actions, for example, with regard to wages, as was reported, are for a mere USD10 increase per month.

The Burmese government’s response to this legitimate industrial action by workers was excessive and oppressive It was reported that, the “…Authorities used barbed wire barricades to block roads leading to the factories in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone in the city's north-east, and more than 50 truckloads of riot police carrying batons and shields were deployed and at least six fire engines and five prison vans were parked near the factories…” [AP - Straits Times, 10/2/2010, Myanmar workers on strike]

Today (19/2/2010) although the workers are back in the factories, they continue demanding for their rights. In Burma, they are even more vulnerable and powerless without a change in the existing laws to allow the right to assembly and to allow workers the right to form unions.

Burma is a member of ASEAN, and as such we call upon ASEAN and all ASEAN member countries to do the needful to ensure that workers in Burma, just like other workers in other ASEAN countries, also receive just wages, have a safe and healthy working environment, enjoy the right to form unions and all other universally acknowledged worker and human rights.

We also call on ASEAN, and ASEAN member countries to closely monitor the current situation at the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone, and ensure that these workers rights are recognized and respected, and that the Burmese government refrains from further interfering in this pursuit of rights by workers in Burma.

Further, on 23 October 2009, the Heads of State/Government of ASEAN presided over the Inaugural Ceremony of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), during which they also announced the “Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Inauguration of the AICHR” to pledge full support to this new ASEAN body and emphasize their commitment to further develop cooperation to promote and protect human rights in the region.

Noting that the primary purpose of the AICHR is to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN, we hope that the AICHR will begin proving that it is not merely a toothless tiger by ensuring that the human rights of these workers in Burma are promoted and protected.

Many ASEAN member countries, like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, invest significantly in Burma. We hope that these economic and other self-interest considerations will not affect the way ASEAN, and its member nations, response to human rights violations of the ordinary people and workers in ASEAN.

I look forward to hearing your response,

Yours sincerely,

Pranom Somwong
Charles Hector

3585A Kg Lubuk Layang,
Batu 3, Jalan Mentakab,
28000 Temerloh, Pahang, Malaysia.

Email:- ;

For and on behalf of the 56 Organizations/groups listed below:

All Kachin Students and Youth Union
All Burma Federation of Student Unions (Foreign Affairs' Committee)
Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and development (APWLD)
Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC)
Asian Migrants Center(AMC)
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) – Youth and Women
'Alltogether', the South Korean left organization
Amnesty International Philippines
Batis Aware, Philippines
Burma Global Action Network
Burmese Women's Union (BWU)
Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan
Burma Campaign, Malaysia
Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB)
Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) Philippines
Center for Overseas Workers (COW)
Coalition against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific
Chin Democracy and Human Rights Network (South Korea)
Civil Society Committee of LLG Cultural Development Centre Bhd(LLGCSC), Malaysia
Committee for Asian Women (CAW)
Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM) Asia
Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS)
Empower Foundation, Thailand
Free Burma Coalition Philippines (FBC-Philippines)
Free Burma Coalition – Philippines (Women's Committee)
Foundation for Education and Development, Thailand
Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
Human Rights and Development Foundation (Thailand)
Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
JERIT (Oppressed People's Network, Malaysia)
Kachin Development Networking Group
Korean House for International Solidarity, KHIS
Labour Behind the Label, United Kingdom
MAP Foundation, Thailand
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)
MSC/NWC- Sri Lanka,
MAKALAYA (Women Workers Network)
Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)
National League for Democracy [NLD (LA)], Malaysia
Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM)
Network for Democracy and Development
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (Socialist Party of Malaysia, PSM)
Pagkakaisa ng Kababaihan para sa Kalayaan (KAISA-KA)
Piglas Kababaihan
Partido ng Manggagawa (PM - Workers' Party)
Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade union (MTU), Korea
Studio Xang Art for Migrant Children,Thailand
Thai Labour Campaign (TLC), Thailand
Think Center (Singapore)
The Action Network for Migrants (ANM), Thailand
The Shan Refugee Organization (SRO), Malaysia
Task Force on ASEAN and Burma (TFAB)
Worker Hub for Change (WH4C)
Women Health, Philippines
World March for Women - Philippines

c.c. Workers in Burma -

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Malaysia Cracks Down on Migrants

By ALEX ELLGEE Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The crackdown in Malayisa on illegal workers began on Sunday with the Negri Sembilan Immigration Department arresting 116 foreigners, according to its director Pisal Mustafa.

Thirteen of those arrested in the western Malaysian state had come from Burma, he said, with 68 from Indonesia and the rest originating from India, Cambodia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Nepal. All were aged between 22 and 38.

The migrants were arrested for overstaying their visas and/ or not being in possession of travel documents, and were sent to Lenggeng detention center. Thirty immigration officers were involved in the operation, codenamed “Ops Kutip,” he said.

However, Pranom Somwong, a coordinator for Workers Hub For Change and Network for Action on Migrants in Malaysia told The Irrawaddy she had received reports from the Burmese workers that they were, in fact, in possession of travel documents.

“We’ve been told that some of the workers who were arrested over the weekend were holding travel documents. When the police came, the workers tried to show their documents but were beaten up by the police,” she said.

Human rights groups are concerned about what awaits those arrested at the Lenggeng detention center, where abuses have been frequently documented.

“Having interviewed several people who have been detained there I can tell you it’s extremely overcrowded and new arrivals are forced to sleep outside without blankets,” a representative for an ethnic refugee organization told The Irrawaddy.

“There are only eight toilets for nearly 1,500 people, and the food they receive is inadequate. It took three months for UNHCR card holders to be released,” he added.

According to the coordinator of a local labor rights organization, police have also been conducting raids in Chinatown district in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, he said many Burmese were among those detained. He said that “plain-clothes police rounded up the workers and bundled them into police wagons. Although the trucks are suitable for no more than 30 persons, they were putting about 40 persons in each one.

“Most of them were released from the police station because their documents were in order,” he said, adding that the raids have been a nightly occurence this week.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian home minister has told the national press that the authorities hope to create a system which will allow them to monitor “each and every foreigner” who enters Malaysia.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said they hope this will create an environment in which illegal immigrants would “feel afraid and threatened, and be prepared to leave the country immediately.”

Commenting on the home minister's statement, Pranom Somwong said she felt it wasn’t the appropriate way to deal with the problem.

“It seems like the government wants to make every foreigner––even if you have passport or visa––afraid to live in Malaysia. This type of language gives a green light to the police to carry out heavy-handed raids with impunity,” she said.

“The Burmese migrant communities are very worried. The raids are going on every day. There are reports on the TV all day in which they only blame the workers. Instead they need to pressure the employers to document the workers,” she said.

According to Malaysia's Home Ministry, last year Malaysian authorities carried out 7,099 operations against illegal immigrants, which saw 47,310 people being detained, including 26,545 cases of illegal entry and 8,655 cases of overstaying.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Anti trafficking; Right of migrant worker ?

US pressure bodes ill for Burmese migrants

JJ Kim

Feb 15, 2010 (DVB)–Thousands of undocumented migrants in Malaysia, many of whom are recognised refugees from Burma, are likely to be arrested in coming weeks following heavy pressure from the US to eradicate human trafficking.

Malaysia’s immigration department is to clamp down on the employers of undocumented migrants in the constructing and manufacturing sectors, charging them under the Anti-Trafficking Persons Act (APTA). According to local worker rights groups, thousands of migrant workers will be detained in the process without charges while those deemed victims of human trafficking will be deported to Burma.

The shift in policy, announced in January, comes after increased pressure from the US on Malaysian authorities to bring a halt to the selling of foreign nationals for commercial exploits, such as labour and prostitution. Since the US senate publicised a report on the issue in April 2009, human trafficking has been curbed massively. However, raids and arrests continue and are expected to soar once the upcoming crackdown is underway.

According to community-based organisations working with Burmese migrants, detention facilities and prisons across the nation are already severely overcrowded since detainees are no longer being deported via traffickers. It is estimated that there are currently between 4,000 and 5,000 Burmese men, women and children in detention, compared with around 2,000 in April and less than 3,000 in August.

Pranom Somwong, who has more than 10 years’ experience working with Burmese migrants in Thailand and Malaysia, is now coordinator of Workers Hub For Change (WH4C) and Network for Action on Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM), based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital.

“Before, [immigration] would deport migrants to the Thai border, where they would often pay and be freed, but now, because of the huge allegations about trafficking, migrants from Burma are piling up in detention centres and have to be there for many months.” she said.

“But now, when migrants should come out of detention they have to spend 550 MYR [$US160] to go through the Burmese embassy and proceed back to Burma. If they don't have money they end up in detention for a longer term.”

Many of these detainees have now been held for over six months, a few for more than two years. They reportedly live in sub-standard conditions and are often subject to abusive treatment by guards. Figures from August 2009 show that five out of the nation’s 13 detention centres were over-populated, some holding twice their capacity. Disease is widespread, and according to reports in the Malaysian media, deaths average as high as 18 per month. Local groups say that there are also high death rates among ex-detainees shortly after their release due to malnutrition and unhygienic living conditions.

Among those held are refugees who have been registered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They are indiscriminately arrested by Malaysian authorities although can often gain freedom more easily with the help of the UN agency.

In April 2009, Aung Soe Win, a registered refugee, was arrested along with his friend, Maung Twa,n during two consecutive raids on a restaurant where they worked. Whilst being held at Putrajaya immigration office for an extended period, Maung Twan became severely ill and died.

“The place we were held was very bad,” Aung Soe Win explained following his release. “The toilet was always overflowing and there was no water for it or windows…Every three days, 50 of us would be given an hour to shower under two shower heads.

“After about a month, Maung Twan started to get sick. His legs became swollen and he’s was bleeding and coughing and vomiting a lot. Whenever the officers would pass by our cell we would ask for medical attention. We asked so many times that I cannot remember how many, but they only gave him treatment after he started showing signs of serious illness. At this point it was almost too late to help him.

“After being sick for two months he got so sick that he could not walk. The immigration officers became angry with him and asked why he would not walk. We showed them his legs and how sick he was. Two months later, they took him to hospital. Two weeks after that he died, at age 18.

“I was released by UNHCR shortly after his death. The officers told me that if I did not take his body he would be given to the dogs. This made me very angry. We were no criminals, we were just refugees and we were treated so badly in our country. We are not treated like humans. If we were, my friend would be alive right now.”

Among the deaths of Burmese detainees in 2009 a number are thought to have been caused by Leptopirosis, a waterborne disease, typically caused by exposure to animal urine, most commonly rat.

Speaking under anonymity, ethnic group-based refugee committees in Malaysia have told of severe mistreatment in the detention facilities. “Among the greatest concerns is the treatment of women and children,” said one group’s spokesperson. “Pregnant women are often arrested and then kept in detention under the same conditions as everybody else, and often forced to give birth in their cells. Females are not given any sanitary pads or tampons and many of them believe the presence of blood will bring demons and bad spirits so they live in fear. It’s horrific, there’s blood everywhere and the roofs are very low and it gets hot.”

Sexual abuse committed by the warders is also documented regularly, on both men and women. “At Semenyih [refugee] camp, one young woman is taken once a week on rotation. They are gone for the night and often come back hurt and crying but never talk about their experiences…This also happens regularly to boys aged 14 to 16-years-old; they are attacked by both guards and older inmates.”

While using anti-trafficking legislation to dish out harsher sentences, Malaysian authorities’ primary goal appears to be an end to undocumented migration. Speaking to the Malaysian press in January this year, the department’s director-general, Datuk Abdul Rahman Othman, stated that linking the harbouring or hiring of illegals with APTA offences such as exploitation, debt bondage and slavery were the “drastic measures…needed to curb the number of overstayers in the country.” According to government there are currently around 1.8 million undocumented migrant workers nationwide.

The move is doubtlessly further influenced by pressure from the US. The senate report released in April 2009 condemned Malaysian officials for their involvement in the trade for profit. It stated that “in recent years” thousands of Burmese migrants have been passed “over to human peddlers in Thailand, representing a variety of business interests ranging from fishing boats to brothels.” It then recommended that the Malaysian authorities should investigate and prosecute cases of trafficking.

Despite previous denial of such allegations from home minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, a full-blown investigation was shortly underway which led to nine arrests, including five immigration officials. Since then, there have been a number of further arrests linked to human trafficking, including the arrest of five Chinese nationals in Kuala Lumpur on 5 February.

While Malaysia has seen a decrease in trafficking, workers’ rights groups feel that a more holistic approach is needed as many more pressing issues affecting the lives of migrants are yet to be addressed.

According to Pranom Somwong, “a lot of information in [the US senate report] was correct and we need to respect the information from survivors in that report. But when you look at the impact of that report, you can see that the US policy is on law enforcement against trafficking and abolition of prostitution but they're not interested in other things…They are not addressing the issue of forced migration and refugees from Burma but pick and choose issues that suit them, mainly focusing on the corruption of the authorities.”

“[They haven’t suggested] any appropriate mechanism or system to allow victims to stay or receive legal aid to sue the traffickers and receive compensation. [Those that are deemed victims of trafficking] will spend three months in shelter and then sent back to Burma.”

This is of particular concern to the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Burma. At the end of January 2010, there were a total of 79,300 UNHCR-registered refugees in Malaysia, almost all of which are Burmese. However, Malaysia is not a party to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and thus its law enforcers indiscriminately arrest all undocumented regardless of their status.

“As far as the Malaysian government is concerned, refugees are undocumented migrants and therefore the crackdown will affect them in the same way, although those with UNHCR status will be released eventually.” Pranom Somwong added.

On 1 February the government announced plans to issue ID cards to all UNHCR-registered refugees, a decision that has been welcomed by the agency.

According to UNHCR Malaysia’s external relations officer, Yante Ismail, “Proper documentation for refugees is essential to their protection…We look forward to further discussions to put into place with them a documentation system for refugees."

No planned date for the move was announced but it is unlikely to go through in coming months and will have little or no effect on the arrests beginning next week. Law enforcers will firstly be focusing on the manufacturing and construction sectors but are expected to target the services sector too next month after Chinese New Year celebrations are over.

The effects of the crackdown are hard to predict. In 2005 and 2007, similar plans were announced that led to the arrest of tens of thousands of undocumented migrants. However, never has there been such attention given to employers, nor have anti-trafficking offences been such a key focus.

In Kuala Lumpur, refugee committees and worker rights groups alike are expecting the majority of those arrested to be migrants themselves, and have targeted employers to be limited to owners of small businesses. According to Pranom Somwong, “The anti-trafficking act is second on the agenda, aimed at appeasing the US war on human trafficking.”


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Support Workers’ Demands for Labour Rights in Burma

Feb 12th 2010

Support Workers’ Demands for Labour Rights in Burma

On February 8th 2010, 3,600 factory workers, mostly women, in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone in Rangoon, Burma, protested against the substandard working conditions they are forced to endure in the factories. Workers employed at the Opal 2 and Mya Fashion factories demanded a wage increase of 10US$ a month. The next day, workers at the Taiyee shoe factory, and the Kya Lay garment factory also came out to demand the enforcement of public holidays, an increase in their daily wage, proper payment of overtime and other basic rights.

The Burmese military regime responded by bringing in hundreds of armed police and warned the workers that they would face a violent crackdown if they did not disperse peacefully. On February 10th the workers had little choice but to accept a compromised settlement of a monthly increase of US$2 –US$5. But then the next day, February 11th, workers from Myanmar Sunny shoe factory form Industrial Zone No.(2) and from Miss Style shoe factory from Industrial Zone No.(3) announced that they would also demand increased wages.

The industrial zone where these factories are located employs between 50,000 to 70,000 workers. The factories are owned by Korean, Thai and Burmese nationals, among others.

Burma continues to be ruled by a military dictatorship with a record of violent crack- downs against any form of protest or gatherings over 5 people. Trade unions are banned. Workers in Burma are thus denied their basic rights of assembly and collective bargaining. In addition, with a blackout on news coverage of any unrest, workers are completely isolated from international attention.

The isolation of the workers, the presence of the military and the history of the regime is cause for grave concern for the safety and the rights of all workers in Burma and urgently for the workers in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone.

It is also important to note that there are no international agencies in Burma who can support the rights of workers and monitor the situation, due to the restrictive political environment inside Burma.

Asian Migrant Centre, MAP Foundation and the Workers and Farmers Solidarity League of Burma, applaud the brave action taken by the workers and stand in solidarity with all workers in Burma in their struggle for workers rights. We are deeply disturbed by the threat of military force by the military junta in responding to these strikes by workers exercising their freedom of association.

The workers in Burma need your voices. They need your trade unions, civil society organizations and media to highlight their situation, to raise these violations of workers rights with your governments, especially those who are investing in Burma and your governments who are trading with Burma. Please petition your governments urgently.

The workers in Burma need you to demand that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) expand its mandate in Burma to include all forms of exploitation, not only forced labour.

You can also write letters to Sen. Gen Than Shwe c/o Ministry of Defence, Naypyidaw, Myanmar, to express your outrage at the use of threats of violence to quell workers’ call for a US$5 a month raise.

And finally please send a message of support to the brave workers in Burma at

Unite with Workers in Burma!

For further information, please contact:
Workers and Farmers Solidarity League of Burma at
or email:
or contact Reiko Harima Asian Migrant Centre Tel: +852 23120031
or contact Jackie Pollock MAP Tel: +66 860904118