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Cotton hails ‘momentous day’ for Myanmar labour movement

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Steve Cotton

Steve Cotton

ITF general secretary Steve Cotton hailed a momentous and historic day for the labour movement in Myanmar when he spoke at the inaugural congress of the Independent Federation of Myanmar Seafarers (IFOMS) on 31 March.

In the presence of IFOMS union activists, a large international union delegation, Tin Mar Htwe, deputy director general of the Myanmar labour department, and Toe Myint, director of the seafarers division of the ministry of transport, Cotton warmly congratulated the delegates and the newly elected executive committee and officers of IFOMS.

He said: “As Myanmar undergoes a transition towards a more democratic form of government, independent labour unions will be crucial in building a new Myanmar.

“IFOMS has demonstrated its capacity to represent its members but this federation will have an impact far beyond the confines of its growing membership base. Our new affiliate IFOMS is the best possible example to workers in Myanmar on how to build a strong, democratic and effective labour organisation.”

IFOMS’ general secretary Aung Kyaw Linn thanked the ITF for its tremendous support and encouragement and for backing IFOMS despite so much opposition. He called it a fantastic day for all Myanmar seafarers.

Until recently independent labour unions were proscribed in Myanmar. After a long struggle, IFOMS finally won government recognition as a legitimate union on 6 March. The ITF has been working with the union to build its capacity to operate and organise.

IFOMS is already helping seafarers win back pay claims and compensation in cases involving injuries and death in service, as well as pursuing criminal cases against agents who have stolen and withheld seafarers’ documentation.

One of those who has pushed for the new union is Shwe Aung, who was a Myanmar seafarer and is now an ITF inspector with the Seafarers International Union (SIU) in the United States and the ITF’s IFOMS project coordinator. Read his remarkable story at http://goo.gl/n3Anmb. Shwe commented that he used to despair that Myanmar seafarers would never have an independent and democratic union fighting for their rights but now the activists in IFOMS had built such a union. He added that all Burmese seafarers must now get behind and support the union, and he and his fellow inspectors would spread the message to Burmese crew across the globe: stand together, stand with IFOMS.

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