Teachers Federation Rejects Ministry Plans for Official Unions

By Yen Saning 19 December 2014

RANGOON — The Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF) has emphatically rejected the Ministry of Education’s decision to form its own teacher and student unions at higher education institutions, saying that the plan violates the internationally accepted principles of freedom of association.

The MTF’s actions come after the ministry started to form a union composed of two teachers per department at the Rangoon University of Foreign Languages on Dec. 12. The federation fears that the ministry’s actions are a throwback to the Burma Socialist Programme Party era, where government oversight and control ensured pliant labor unions across the board.

A statement by the MTF says that the ministry has failed to recognize the federation’s own union status, despite Burma’s 1955 ratification of the International Labor Organization convention—which guarantees freedom of association and protection of the right to organize—and the federation’s compliance with the rules of Burma’s draft labor law.

“It’s not in accordance with democratic norms if unions are formed through a misuse of the ministry’s power,” Arkar Moe Thu, secretary of the MTF, told The Irrawaddy. “We strongly reject it, as it is weakening [Burma’s] democratic path.”

The Union Parliament has yet to draft planned bylaws to the National Education Law, which are expected to outline the regulations governing the formation of education unions.

The MTF said the ministry’s decision to demand the formation of official unions—before bylaws are considered—is an act of retaliation against recent protests by student unions and criticisms of the law by educators.

Hundreds of students protested against the education law last month on the grounds that it centralizes the curriculum, allows the government to exercise control over teacher appointments and does not extend formal recognition to existing unions.

Existing unions have been formed independently by students and teachers and are not officially recognized by the Ministry of Education or the government.