YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar is changing. In June, the International Labor Organization lifted all restrictions on trade and investment in the country. The Myanmar Investment Commission says foreign investment in the country is five times greater than what it was last year. As the demand for labor increases, workers are beginning to organize for better working conditions.
Citizens were granted this right to organize in October 2011, when the government passed the Labor Organization Law. This law legalizes the formation of labor unions in the country for the first time since 1962, when a military coup left many Burmese citizens without basic democratic rights.
Kyu Kyu Win is a union leader who has been organizing for better working conditions at Esquire Shoe Factory since August 2012. In May 2013, Kyu Kyu Win was fired from her job, along with four other union organizers. She says she was fired for leaving work without permission to deliver surveys about working conditions to the Ministry of Labor. She also thinks she was fired for her union organizing activity.
However, her boss claims that she does not understand labor law, and that he fired Kyu Kyu Win for wrongly accusing the company of being in violation of the labor law. He says she should have expressed any grievances to him first, instead of going to the Ministry of Labor.
While the details regarding Kyu Kyu Win's firing are debatable, the incident raises a vital question: what protections do union workers in Myanmar have against dismissal and discrimination?