Although unions are registering in Myanmar at a rapid rate (there are now more than 515 unions), most of their leaders are very young and have little knowledge about unions or how to organise effectively. UnionAID is funding a six month pilot to assist the Myanmar Railways union leaders to recruit and organise as many of the 20,000 employees as possible. The project will be managed by Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB) Human Rights Secretary, Min Lwin. He has just returned from Mae Sot on the Thai border where he has spent the last 24 years in exile. Our vocational training proposal in Dawei was unsuccessful in attracting government funding so this will be the focus of our efforts in Burma instead.
Archive for category: Burma and Mae Sot
Even at preschool, traditional education in Thailand and Burma is sitting in rows and learning by rote. But some radical changes in teaching methods have taken place at the Parami preschool on the Thai-Burma border. A Montessori trained advisor, and a small grant for classroom resources from the Auckland Social Studies Association and from PSA staff, has meant the classroom has gone from looking like this:
The success of the occupational training centre project has inspired at least one other organisation. The project in Mae Sot was recently visited by Thai lawyers from the Human Rights and Development Foundation, because they plan to set up a similar project in Myawaddy, which is a small border town In Burma across the bridge from Mae Sot, where a special economic zone is being established.
It is not surprising that this is seen as an effective model. The project target of 350 per year has been exceeded and now, at the end of the two years, 798 migrants (including 60 young men, mostly brothers of the trainees) have learnt industrial sewing skills and found work within days in the factories along the border and in Thailand. Employers now initiate contact with the centre seeking skilled workers and two factories provide fabric remnants and thread for the training.
A short trades course funded by UnionAID was recently run for teachers, their husbands and two students to learn the use of tools and materials, welding, carpentry, furniture design and construction, electrical engineering and wiring, and workplace health and safety. Tables and chairs were made for the school during the training. The tutor, Joseph Gonzalez, a unionist and retired engineer, has been working with the FTUB for several years, and supervised the building of the Occupational Training Centre complex of buildings. Once the school year is over, the trainees will run a ten day training for a group of school leavers.
After four years managing this government funded programme, UnionAID now has 27 young alumni working in positions of responsibility in Burma. Most of these have leadership positions in NGOs, two are journalists, and two are working as economists advising the government as it moves towards democracy. However no decision on funding the BYCLP for a fifth year has been made because of discussions between government and immigration so we have put it on hold this year. However, after his visit to Burma last year, John Key confirmed publicly that funding would be continued so we are still hopeful.
This has been an exciting year for Burma with impressive steps being taken towards democracy and a market economy. Whether it will actually achieve real democracy is an issue which is the subject of intense speculation. UnionAID, as one of the few New Zealand organisations with established links and projects in Burma, has been exploring the steps we can take to assist the process of democratic development. It is for that reason that this issue of Solidarity is focused on our work in that fascinating country.
We would also like to thank you for your support over the past year and look forward to your continuing solidarity in 2013. Have a safe and relaxing Christmas.
An isolated area in south east Burma is about to become a special economic zone (SEZ) with the development of a deep sea port in Dawei and road and rail links to Thailand. After an approach by local government to Myanmar business leaders, the Centre for Dawei Development (CDD) was planned and a partnership with UnionAID formed.
The CDD aims to provide high-quality fully-subsidised vocational training for local people in fields such as engineering, hospitality and tourism, and skin and hair care. This will give them the skills to take up the many jobs that will emerge from the SEZ development. A focus will be on training for young women, given the lack of other opportunities and their vulnerability to the risks of sex work. As a venture, this fits current NZAid funding criteria perfectly and before Christmas we hope to hear from MFAT whether our proposal has been successful.
Moves towards democracy and a market economy in Burma have not yet benefitted the many young women who are still migrating to Mae Sot to find jobs. Talking to five young factory workers (of over 700 mainly women now trained under our Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB) partnership project) on their one day off a month made this clear.
Their stories illustrate the ongoing pressures of poverty and unemployment in Burma today. All five had crossed the border for the same reason: to save enough money to support families back home. May Myat No didn’t want to leave, but with nine family members and no work in her village, she is saving to send money home for her brothers’ education. Khin Myo Aye’s father is unwell and has no work. Khin Lay Nwe is the oldest of four siblings and is providing for her younger brother’s education. Aye Sandar Myint is here because her family’s rice paddies have been destroyed by floods and insect infestation. She is only 18 years old.
All agreed that they would head home when they could get jobs at the same rates of pay as their current work (about $NZ200 per month). If the removal of sanctions by Europe and the United States brings bigger and better markets for clothing produced in Burma, then hopefully this will create jobs closer to home for these young women.
When asked what their biggest problem was in Mae Sot, they said ‘the police’. As illegal migrants they are at risk of being arrested and sent home. This vulnerability is frequently exploited and leaving a job can result in the employer threatening to inform police, as Khin Myo Aye found when she wanted to change jobs. To prevent this happening, she had to pay her employer a sum of money.
Sixteen years ago U Htay Hlaing was imprisoned for nine years in Burma for his political activities. Now he is living in the border town of Mae Sot and has joined three other new teachers to educate the children of migrant workers at the FTUB Parami school. These extra teaching positions have been made possible through the generosity of New Zealand teachers unions. The PPTA, NZEI, ISEA and the TEU are paying their salaries for two years and the four teachers are providing lessons in science, physics, computer studies, Thai language, biology and social studies to grades 9-10 pupils.
Children of migrant workers who live at a distance from the FTUB school get safely to and from school each day in transport generously paid for by the Rail and Maritime Union (RMTU) and Maritime Union (MUNZ). The school has one vehicle of its own, and they lease two extra cars to ferry the children. The three vehicles do six ‘ferry’ trips each a day, three in the morning and three in the afternoon, bringing over 400 children safely to school and home again.