After years of work, a truly independent trade union for seafarers in Myanmar has been created to look after some of the world’s most vulnerable and exploited workers.
As delegates from docker and seafaring unions from around the world gathered in Perth for the International Transport Workers’ Federation Fair Practices Commitee, two men from Myanmar, Shwe Tun Aung and Aung Kyaw Lin, told of the struggles and difficulties they had faced in forming their union – the Independent Federation of Myanmar Seafarers (IFOMS).
IFOMS General Secretary Aung Kyaw Lin explained that before IFOMS, those who wanted to work at sea had to pay extortionate amounts of money to manning agents and if they could not stump up the cash they would have to hand over property deeds.
However, there was still a lot of work to be done, he said, because those who had chosen to join were being stood over by shipping companies and agencies.
There had been some good news though, according to ITF National Coordinator Dean Summers, in that more than 1000 new members signed up within the first three weeks of the union’s existence.
“The international inspectorate should be congratulated for running a strong recruitment campaign,” Summers said.
“Burmese seafarers have, under the Burmese military junta, been the most vulnerable seafarers in the world with almost no way to protect them and their families.
“For many years bad ship-owners and even worse manning agents have got away with the most atrocious abuse of these workers. Finally we have a brave new union supported by the ITF and by strong affiliates like the MUA.”