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International Labor Organization (ILO)

November 17, 2011

312th Session of the ILO Governing Body, November 2011
Institutional Section, Agenda Item No. 7:
Complaint concerning the non-observance by Burma of Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association under Article 26 of the ILO Constitution
Statement of the United States Government

Chair,

On many occasions in the past the United States has expressed deep concern about the grave and persistent lack of compliance by the Burmese Government with the core international standards on freedom of association. Within the past few months, however, we have witnessed important developments that give us reason to be cautiously optimistic about future prospects.

The development that is most significant for the present debate in the Governing Body is the country's new law on labor organizations. We welcome the fact that the ILO was consulted in the preparation of the new legislation and that the Government was receptive to the ILO's recommendations for improving the text prior to submitting it to Parliament.

We expect that the new legislation will be analyzed by the ILO Committee of Experts for full compliance with Convention 87, and trust that the Government will be equally receptive to any additional guidance that the Experts may provide.

Further, recognizing that the enactment of legislation is critical but not sufficient, we call on the Government to ensure that the new law enters into force and is applied in practice to all legitimate trade union organizations seeking to represent workers in the workplace. The new law represents a fundamental change at all levels that will require a significant period of education for all parties. We hope that the ILO will do everything possible within its mandate to assist in this process of education.

The United States continues to believe that the objective of eliminating forced labor can be achieved more effectively in an environment where freedom of association and trade union rights flourish. We therefore continue to see merit in the expansion of the existing ILO presence in the country to include the promotion of freedom of association. We hope that the Government will also see the merit of such on-the-ground assistance. Similarly, we hope the Government will recognize the valuable role that labor activists can play in promoting and fulfilling the promise of the new trade union legislation, and we urge the Government to free any individuals who remain in prison for having exercised their right to associate.

As I said, the U.S. Government is cautiously encouraged by recent developments. Nonetheless, it is clear to us that the situation is far from being resolved. We therefore believe that it is appropriate to temporarily place on hold, until March 2012, the decision to appoint a Commission of Inquiry. That would afford the Governing Body, along with the ILO supervisory bodies, the opportunity to fully evaluate the new law on labor organizations and monitor further developments to ensure that they fulfill the promise of full freedom of association and trade union rights for all workers.