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Myanmar workers win right to strike: officials

15 october 2011, 18:34
Workers in military-dominated Myanmar will be allowed to unionise and go on strike for the first time in decades, AFP reports, citing officials Friday, under landmark new legislation welcomed by the United Nations.

The law was signed into effect by President Thein Sein on Tuesday, government sources said, and replaces the repressive 1962 Trade Unions Act, in the latest sign of tentative reform by the authoritarian regime.

"Workers will have the right to form unions and to strike under the law," a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The legislation stipulates that workers, with the exception of military and police personnel, may set up a union with a minimum of 30 members and come up with their own name and a logo.

Employers must be given up to 14 days notice of industrial action and unions must specify in advance how many people will take part in the strike, it said.

Providers of essential services, such as healthcare, firefighting, telecommunications, the supply of water and electricity, do not have the right to strike.

"Although we can't say that everything about the new labour law is good, we have to welcome it," Nyan Win, a lawyer and spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy party, told AFP.

The International Labour Organisation also cheered the new measure, although Steve Marshall, the UN agency's liaison officer in Myanmar, cautioned that he had not yet read the full text of the legislation.

"But in principle there is no question that the law is a major step for the government of Myanmar," he told AFP.

Marshall added that in a country where labour activists have frequently ended up behind bars, it would take a while for the impact of the legislation to be felt.

"It is a new approach and a new culture," he said. "It will take some time. We will not see immediate change overnight."

The labour law is the latest evidence of a wind of tentative change blowing through Myanmar, as the new nominally-civilian government tries to show it is serious about reform after decades of repression.

Earlier this week, the regime pardoned about 200 political prisoners in a much-anticipated amnesty though critics said the gesture did not go far enough as most of the country's roughly 2,000 political detainees remain in jail.

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