Our first UnionAID project in 2003 was providing training for workers on the Thai-Burma border with exiled unionists from the Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB). Later when we visited an occupational training centre in Mae Sot run by the FTUB for migrant workers in 2007, we met Phyo Sandar Soe.
Sandar had only been 21 when she crossed the Thai border in 2005 to work in one of the garment factories in Mae Sot. On Sundays, her only day off, she attended union training. Now she is the Assistant General Secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM) and in 2021, a member of the Governing Body of the UN agency the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
After nine years of union building in Myanmar, the 2021 military coup once again outlawed unions and union leaders. To avoid a life sentence under the brutal military regime in Myanmar, Sandar fled again to the Thai border in 2022 disguised as an old woman. There she lived in hiding until – with the help of UnionAID, the ILO and the NZ Embassy in Bangkok – she finally reached Wellington in March this year. Here she continues her international union work online. During the day she works part-time at the PSA, talking to groups about the situation in Myanmar and door knocking for the Labour party.