Conflict & Justice

Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights


South Korean representatives from Kaesong-based companies hold placards reading "We would like to work. Normalise operations of the Kaesong industrial park!" as they wait for a bus carrying South Korean delegates at a military check point in Paju near the border with North Korea on August 14, 2013. The two Koreas held fresh talks on August 14 on reopening the industrial park, ahead of South Korea-US military exercises next week that the North says are a rehearsal for war.



Burmese migrant worker activists in Malaysia fight for safer conditions, Cameroon tries to “inspire” employers to ensure their workers’ rights, and North and South Korea began negotiations to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Here are some continuing issues to keep in mind:


Burma’s labor minister, Aye Myint, visited Malaysia on Monday to meet with Burmese rights groups about issues surrounding a crackdown by Malaysian police on migrant workers.

The meeting took place in a Kuala Lumpur hotel, where Myint “vowed he would help secure the return of Burmese nationals who wished to go home in the wake of the crackdown in which some 550 Burmese migrants have been detained,” Democratic Voice of Burma reported.

The minister also reportedly said that he would discuss the current crackdown issues with Malaysian immigration authorities, and would question the high rates of tax that Burmese migrants are often expected to pay.

During the meeting, rights groups were able to express their concern over lack of security for Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia.

“We urged the minister to pressure the Malaysian authorities regarding this issue, while other migrant groups brought up the matter of Burmese girls being raped in central Kuala Lumpur,” an activist told the Democratic Voice.

Yan Naing Htun of the Centre for Protection of Burmese Migrant Workers said he was not positive that the minister’s visit would prove helpful.

“I don’t think anything will come out of this since the Burmese embassy in Malaysia is not doing the job they are supposed to do – because they are afraid [of the Malaysian authorities],” he said.


Cameroon’s National Rights Commission said on Wednesday it would see to it that workers’ rights be protected from employers who are not being paid, among other rights abuses, All Africa reported.

Approximately 933 petitions were recently filed, according to All Africa, with the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF). Of those petitions, about 11 percent were from Cameroon.

In an effort to “foster social cohesion,” and “instill fundamental principles of human rights in the labour sector.”

Dr. Divine Banda Chemuta, Chairman of the Commission, hosted a “come-together” between workers of the National Refinery Company (SONARA) and their employers. The goal of the meeting was to motivate employers to ensure that their employees’ rights meet international standards.

The human rights abuses addressed included unpaid salaries, undocumented workers, noncompliance with leave requirements to include maternity leave, abusive dismissals, and abusive hours.


South and North Korea started negotiations early Friday, in an effort to reach an agreement on how to better protect South Korean workers, and update communications at their shared Northern factory park, GlobalPost reported.

Representatives from both countries will participate in panel discussions that will touch on issues that were not discussed in an agreement earlier this week, which was to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex on Monday.

The reopening would “effectively end the standoff over the inter-Korean factory zone.”

Operations at Kaesong have been halted in early April, following the unilateral pull out of Pyongyang’s workers, when the North said the South had engaged in “political and military provocations” with the US.

The North stopped just short of closing down the factory park.

Seoul's Ministry of Unification said today’s three meetings would “focus on enhancing communications and travel, and overall management, as well as rights governing South Koreans who will stay in the North for extended periods of time.”