To share, exchange and find solutions to address these challenges, trade union leaders from seven countries from the South East Asia region came together in Yangon at the Regional Meeting on Textile, Garment, Shoes and Leather Organising in the Supply Chain from 4-5 July 2019.
One of the main purposes of the meeting was to focus on strategic communications for organizing campaigns in order to achieve collective bargaining capabilities in the supply chain. The ultimate aim is to secure respect for worker’s rights and come closer to decent wages.
U Maung Maung, President of Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM) highlighted the importance of trade union solidarity and the achievements of unions when they organize together.
“Now we can openly talk about freedom of association in Myanmar. I also would like to remind all of you that the trade union can do something to change the system, to change towards democratic movement.”
Find out more about the event by having a look at the interviews that FES conducted with trade union leaders from Thailand and Vietnam and the Garment and Textile Industry Director from IndustriALL.
Kornchanok Thana Khun
Triumph international Labour Union of Thailand
Q: What is the current stage of unionization in your country?
Currently, there are problems to unionize in Thailand. Organizing in Thailand is quite difficult, and this issue is quite complex.
Q: What are the challenges for unionization in your country?
The unions are not very organized. One of the problems is the government because Thai government hasn’t ratified the ILO conventions 87 and 98 yet. Another problem is that Thai workers do not really know why they have to join unions. They are afraid to get fired if they join trade unions. The employers also intimidate the workers in order to prevent them joining the unions. Also, there are cases when multi-national companies fire workers for trying to unionize. The most difficult thing is that workers do not have time for the unions as they are working full time. Another thing is the budget we use inside of the organization. Another difficulty is the employer. Another thing is the government not signing the ILO convention which sates for the freedom of association.
Q: Does your union has strategy for unionization?
We try to reach as many workers as we can. We enhance their knowledge by dividing into smaller groups and give intensive awareness raising workshops. Also, we visit their sites and see what the issues are and how to solve the issues. We try to build up a network.
Q: What do you suggest being done to overcome the challenges?
First, I think we need to revise our law. The Thai law is quite old, we are using the law which is not open to everybody yet. We are also trying to push the government to ratify the ILO convention 87 and 98. In my opinion, one of the trade union members should be in the congress. Right now, there are five representatives from the union, and we are trying to push them to be on the policy making side so that they can revise the Labor Law.
Pham Thi Thanh Tam
Vietnam National Union of Textile & Garment Workers
Q: What is the current stage of unionization in your country?
There are more than 10 million union members in Vietnam and among them, more than 50% are women. Unionization in Vietnam is quite advanced because trade unions are politically and socially recognized in the constitution of Vietnam. The community and employers also recognize the importance of the unions which maintain the sound harmony of industrial relations at the workplace and for the whole society.
Q: What kind of strategy do you use for unionization?
We have to conduct face to face meetings with workers. We communicate with them so that they understand the benefit of joining the union. One of the interests of joining the union is to be represented and to protect their rights. Another benefit is that they can be trained in terms of skills so that they can adapt to the changes of the company.
Q: Is there any challenges to fulfill the strategy?
One of the challenges is that working condition and working policies are different in companies. It means that each union has to build its own strategy organizing the workers. To win the trust of the workers, a union needs a long time. Sometimes, it also needs the involvement of the local authorities in the organizing process as some of the employers are hostile towards the unions. Another challenge is the knowledge and skills of the trade union representatives. The skills of trade union representatives need to be enhanced to adapt to the changing situation.
Q: What should be done to overcome these challenges?
In order to enhance the skill, we conduct training courses on different topics such as legal and policy matters. Or we can send our trade union representatives to trainings or workshops to a higher level like to a global union federation like this current meeting we are at. In order to win the trust of the workers, we can do surveys to identify problems of the workers and we can conduct social dialogue do collective bargaining and find the solution. We can give training and education for the workers on the legal knowledge so that they can protect themselves. We also provide support to the non-trade union members. We also run initiatives to increase the value of the companies. If a union could prove to its company that they also get benefits from having unions, the employers will recognize the important role of unions in making the company develop. It is easier to do collective bargaining for the workers.
Garment and Textile Industry Director
Q: As you are working on the regional level, what kind of challenges do you see in the region concerning with unionization in the supply chain?
One of the challenges as the trade union regionally, a lot of times, the struggles are invisible. We are very connected in our countries, but we don’t know how to give a global voice to our struggles. So, one of the things this workshop does is work on communications skills, how can we tell our stories, positive and negative, to a global audience. In this sector, many customers are concerned and interested in who made their clothes. So, one thing that we do with our affiliated unions is to ensure that they have the communications skills to be able to tell their stories. To tell who, what, why and when.
Q: What do you aim to achieve by telling these stories?
There are two things that we aim to achieve. One is to build density, union density, to ensure that workers’ rights are not violated. So, the more active workers and trade unions are in this global discussion in the supply chain specifically the garment sector, the more power they are able to build in the supply chain. Also, by using social media and different media outlets, workers in the region can make the connection between regional countries.
Q: What are your future plans for the regional level?
We will continue as Industrial Global Union to play our appropriate role which is to connect the textile, garment, leather and shoes union throughout the region and connect them to the global affiliates. There are four points that we will continue to work with our global affiliates on. One is to develop a Global brand strategy, bringing more brands on board to solve systemic problems in the supply chain. Systemic problems are freedom of association and low wages. We will continue to work with our affiliates to call on global brands to work with IndustriALL, We will continue to campaign to get more global framework agreements. This is a very important cross border social dialogue tool that IndustriALL, the agreements are signed with global brands individually and they recognize us as the global counterpart in the supply chains. We continue to monitor and implement the ones we have already but we also campaign and work with other brands on developing these important tools. We will continue working with our affiliates to push transparency. For us, it’s very important that workers in the sectors are invisible, that their voices, there work is valued. And their rights are respected in the supply chain.
For more information on the meeting, contact the FES Office in Myanmar.