APHEDA, the Union Movement and Civil Society Groups Respond to the Myanmar Crisis

Mar 31, 2021

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA has joined with the Australian and international trade union movement, the international and Australian human rights networks, and the Myanmar diaspora groups globally in condemning the military junta’s takeover of the country on February 1. 466 people have been murdered so far and nearly 4,000 people arrested.

In broad terms the international social movements share the following goals:

  1. Support, maintain and strengthen the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM);
  2. Cut the financial lifeline of the junta – primarily through its international business dealings with multi-national corporations and governments working through the military and state-owned corporations such as Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd;
  3. Achieve international recognition of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw CRPH (the body of elected MPs who were scheduled to assume government on February 1), with ‘full federal democracy’, that is, ethnic group recognition;
  4. Release all political prisoners.

 Australian civil society coordinate on business withdrawal

APHEDA has joined with the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Publish What You Pay Australia, the Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International Australia and other groups to coordinate our action on the financial links between the military and Australian and international businesses.

Since 1 February 2021, APHEDA has joined the call for Australian and international businesses to suspend all operations in Myanmar. This included Australian oil, gas and mining businesses, Woodside  Energy, Myanmar Metals, Bawdwin Joint Venture as well as international energy businesses, Chevron and Total.

International union action

  • In Australia, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Australian Worker’s Union (AWU) wrote to Woodside immediately after the coup asking for Woodside to immediately suspend operations.
  • The ACTU in coordination with others helped force the end of the military cooperation between Australia and Myanmar defence forces.
  • In France, unions of the French-based energy giant, Total, are demanding its employer suspend its Myanmar operations on the Yadana gas pipeline.
  • Unions in the US helped pressure US Congress on sanctions. The ACTU in coordination with others helped force the end of the military cooperation between Australia and Myanmar defence forces.
  • The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is intervening to involve the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the issues related gross labour rights violations, including the murder and arrest of trade unionists. The ITUC has issued a list of proxies for senior military leaders for whom it believes all countries should sanction immediately.
  • Global unions and the ITUC have established solidarity fund to support the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM), an ITUC affiliate.
  • Global unions, trade union solidarity organisations and national unions are coordinating together and in collaboration with Myanmar unions to support the Myanmar labour movement and for urgent government action globally to withdraw financial avenues for the junta.

Unionists killed and arrested

As of 31 March 2021, here is the situation update for trade unionists:

  • 16 labour rights organisations are considered illegal as they are not registered trade unions. All of their activities are thus illegal, all leaders are subject to arrest
  • 3 national confederations are still considered legal but all leaderships are at risk of arrest at any time and moving nightly. The General Secretary of confederation, Myanmar Industry Craft and Services Trade Union (MICS) had an attempt on his life, others are under constant threat.
  • Working class industrial zones of Yangon have been targeted for arrest of workers and martial law imposed.
  • 13 unionists have been killed, 188 unionists have been arrested, 220 others subjected to arrest warrants. There are 45 journalists and 111 teachers in jail.
  • Civil servants across all sectors – including doctors, nurses, railway workers, bank employees, port workers, oil and gas administration workers – continue to strike in opposition the military coup. Communities feed and shelter them at risk to their own arrest. International fundraising efforts of all kinds are critical to workers continuing to be able to participate in the nation-wide Civil Disobedience Movement.


Australian government action

So far the Australian government has withdrawn military cooperation but it has not moved to sanction military leaders or the military conglomerates. The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade has initiated a public hearing on 13 April 2021. ACTU and APHEDA have requested an opportunity to appear before the inquiry to advance the shared demands of the Myanmar labour movement and the broader Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). We will also seek to highlight the humanitarian crises emerging on the neighbouring Thai and Indian borders. 


Stand with Myanmar's Workers

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has stood with civil society organisations, trade unions and activists in Myanmar and on the Thai-Myanmar border for over 25 years as they have struggled for peace and democracy. We must continue to stand with them now.

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