In this first edition of ACTU International News we look at the latest news from Burma, Papua New Guinea, the ILO plus more.

This is the first edition of ACTU International news. The intention of the publication is to provide a brief report on international issues of interest to ACTU affiliates. We hope to issue around four editions a year, during the first month of each quarter. Should you have any input you would like to make please contact one of the officers listed below.

Sharan Burrow
(03) 9664 7312
Bill Mansfield
Assistant Secretary
(03) 9664 7334
Alan Matheson
International Officer
(03) 0664 7335

Burma – ILO Acts on Forced Labour

The military authorities in Burma have now been in power since 1962. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest with slow/negligible progress on the “dialogue” between her and the authorities which is being facilitated by the UN.

The ILO has been taking action against the Burma authorities for several years due to the use of forced labour by the military in contravention of ILO Convention 29 which Burma is a party to.

The latest action by the ILO was to send a High Level Team (HLT) to Burma to investigate whether the assertions of the authorities that forced labour had been eliminated through changes in the law were able to be sustained. It was chaired by Sir Ninian Stephen the former Australian Chief Justice.

In brief the HLT found that the practice of forced labour was continuing along with abuses of civilians and reports of killings of those who complained. The report of the HLT was made available to the ILO on November 8 and in part stated :


  • Issue of information on the illegality of forced labour


“It would thus appear, on the basis of the information so far provided, that the authorities have not given due attention to this aspect.” (paragraph 34)

“There was no evidence of any dissemination of the Orders in the Kayin or Shan languages even though most of the people interviewed did not speak or understand Burmese well or at all.” (paragraph 42)


  • Enforcement of orders


“Not a single criminal prosecution has been initiated since the Orders were enacted, and this is, in the view of the HLT, by no means because no instances of forced labour have occurred. On the contrary, there have been widespread instances of forced labour of all kinds, but no prosecutions.” (paragraph 50)


  • Realities of enforcement


“The general population stated that they would not use the complaint procedure as envisaged in the Orders (through the courts or the police). They would more likely complain to the VPDC or TPDC. Many were scared that reprisals could be taken against them. In that respect, the HLT was given several accounts of people being beaten, detained or otherwise punished for earlier complaints on this or other issues.” (paragraph 53)


  • Realities of Forced Labour


“”Forced labour in most of the forms previously identified seemed still to prevail, particularly in villages which were close to a military camp. All too often it was accompanied by acts of cruelty.” (paragraph 56)


  • Use of Convention 87 Freedom of Association


“If there existed genuine civil society organisations, and in particular strong and independent workers’ organisations, as required by Convention 87 ratified by Myanmar, these could provide individuals affected by forced labour with a framework and collective support which would help them to make the best possible use of whatever remedies are available to defend their recognised rights.” (paragraph 68)

The Governing Body of the ILO considered the report and decided that its actions taken to date to require the Burmese government to take effective action to eliminate forced labour should continue. Part of its claims on the Burmese government is for a permanent ILO presence in Rangoon to act as a monitor in relation to forced labour as well as a focal point for human rights complaints against the government.

Despite action being taken by some ILO Governing Body members to soften the ILO pressure on Burma the overwhelming view was that the actions taken had to be maintained.

Papua New Guinea – Need for Action

A delegation from the ACTU and affiliates visited PNG in October. It was led by Bill Mansfield.
Some general information on PNG is as follows :

Population: 5 million
GDP per person: $800
Minimum wage: $16 per week
Unemployment: 40-60% in urban areas
Women in workforce: 5%
Infant mortality : PNG: 60/1000, Australia: 6/1000
Literacy : Men 74%, Women 65%

Overall the delegation concluded that there is a need for much greater contact and assistance to the PNG union movement from Australia. In part it recommended :

A programme of assistance with union development


  • Assist the PNG TUC to upgrade its technology
  • Build partnerships between Australia and PNG unions
  • Facilitate the flow of ILO funds to PNG
  • Establish linkages between Australia/PNG women’s groups


The delegation is recommending that PNG be elevated as a high priority for ACTU’s international program.

The full report will be provided to the forthcoming ACTU Executive meeting.

ILO Governing Body November Meeting

The ILO Governing Body had its second meeting for 2002 in Geneva from November 4-16. Bill Mansfield is a Governing Body member from the Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific. Key issues considered included :


  • A Global Employment Forum was undertaken on November 1-2. Key. Speakers included Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Prime Minister of Denmark and the ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. The outcome of the forum is now being discussed by the Employment and Social Policy Committee in the context of the ILO efforts to become a major player in the international debate around employment policy.
  • Burma was a major item – see page 1 of this Newsletter
  • The ILO Working Party on Globalisation (the full Governing Body) has agreed to the establishment of a High Level Working Party to examine and report on Globalisation. This group of around 18 acknowledged eminent persons from a cross-section of countries/backgrounds will be set up in early 2002 and report to the Conference in June 2003. In the context of the failure of our efforts to obtain a WTO working party on trade and labour standards the Workers Group supported the proposal for an ILO study. The specific membership of the HLG is yet to be determined.
  • Governing Body elections will be held at the June 2002 Conference as the three year term expires. There is expected to be a considerable turnover in the GB members with Italian, Canadian, Japanese and several African worker reps not continuing. Lord Bill Brett, the UK TUC Workers Group spokesperson, has reported that he will not continue and the ACTU proposes to support Leroy Trotman from Barbados, the former President of the ICFTU, as his replacement. The agenda for the ILO June Conference for the next two years will be :



i) Promotion of co-operatives (second discussion)
ii) Recording of OHS accidents and diseases
iii) General discussion on the informal sector


i) Human Resources Training and Development – review of Recommendation 150
ii) General discussion on the scope of the employment relationship (Contract Labour)
iii) General discussion on ILO standards-related activities in OHS

Millennium Review : The Way Ahead

The Durban ICFTU Congress launched the Millennium Review to renew and re-energise the international union movement in the era of globalisation. The findings and recommendations of this review are ready for presentation to the ICFTU Executive this month. They go to the following :


  • Organising, strengthening national trade unions and resources for international action
  • Dealing with multi-national companies and other employers
  • Transforming the global economy
  • Constitutional and regional issues
  • Campaigns and communications


The report is available on request. While it accurately details the issues and describes some first steps which have or should be taken there is still much work to be done. One of the significant steps is the agreement to a common identity of “Global Unions” for the international union movement.

Global Unions has been accepted as a generic title for all ICFTU and ITS work and an integrated framework for web content established. The debate now goes to the important question of a global council or co-ordinating structure.

With the appointment of Guy Ryder as new ICFTU General Secretary there is broad acceptance that Guy will need to head up a further round of development in regard to the issues contained in the Millennium Review report.

For further information contact Sharan or Alan.

Shangri La Dispute – One Step Forward, One Back

In late 2000 workers at the Shangri La Hotel, Jakarta took action to seek improved wages and conditions. Following the sacking of the President of the union by the hotel there was a sit-in by union members. The sit-in was broken up by a police raid following which workers picketed the hotel for several months. A large number of the union members were effectively sacked by the hotel.

The action by the workers has not been successful and the hotel re-opened with some staff returning to work and others being made “redundant”.

In an important positive step the ILO Freedom of Association Committee heard a complaint from the IUF on behalf of Shangri La workers during its November meeting. In an interim decision it has recommended the reinstatement of the sacked workers. The decision is an “interim” one and further information is being sought on aspects of the dispute. This matter will be re-considered in March.

Almost at the same time as the ILO decision a civil court in Jakarta handed down a $4 million damages award to the hotel against the union leadership team of seven officers, including Hemasari, the local representative of the IUF. The court decision also requires them to make a public apology for their actions. The officers have already lodged an appeal against the decision.

NZ CTU Consolidates Gains

The NC CTU’s efforts to rebuild the union movement in New Zealand is continuing to be effective. Developments in recent years have included :


  • Significant membership increases
  • Re-unification of major unions in the CTU
  • New Industrial Relations Act from the Labor government


ACTU relations with President Ross Wilson and Secretary Paul Goulter have been strengthened in recent years with both Councils visiting each other several times. Richard Marles recently made a presentation to the CTU’s Conference in Wellington.

Trade and Labour Standards – Doha Goes Nowhere

Over the last several years the international union movement has been seeking a linkage between trade liberalisation and the labour standards through the WTO and ILO establishing a working group to examine the means of securing ratification of Core Labour Standards. Since the 1995 Singapore conference of the WTO which gave a degree of support for WTO action in this area the organisation has increasingly distanced itself from any linkage and has argued strongly that the place for consideration of labour standards is solely for the ILO.

The Doha meeting of WTO was a further step back of the organisation from acceptance of a linkage between trade and labour standards. The reality is that virtually no government supported our position at the WTO. The provision which has been adopted (which is weaker than the Singapore paragraph) reads as follows :

“We reaffirm our declaration made at the Singapore Ministerial Conference regarding internationally recognized core labour standards. We take note of work under way in the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the social dimension of globalization.”

For full Doha statement go to DFAT website

APHEDA Developments

Phillip Hazelton has taken around 18 months’ leave from APHEDA. The acting CEO is Peter Jennings.

Major projects of APHEDA include :


  • Indonesia – Bandung Labour Education Centre
  • Thai-Burma Border – education and health services
  • Afghanistan appeal
  • Production of a “Workers Rights in the Global Economy” booklet and poster
  • Study tour to Vietnam and the Thai-Burma border in January 2002



APHEDA currently is in need of money to assist refugees in Afghanistan and for medical supplies to Palestinian hospitals – if you can help contact Peter Jennings on (02) 9264 9343.

APHEDA Membership

If you are not already a member a form to join is attached to this newsletter.

SIGTUR – Meeting in Seoul

The Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR) met in Seoul, Korea from November 5-11. SIGTUR is an organisation which is seeking to build stronger networks between unions in the south.

A delegation of around ten affiliate officers from Australia were part of the 100-strong participants at the conference. John Maitland was credentialled to represent the ACTU.

Major decisions of SIGTUR related to the following :


  • Improved networking re anti globalisation
  • Development of “alternatives to privatisation” project
  • Improving women’s participation in unions/SIGTUR
  • Reduce the influence of the World Bank/increase the influence of the ILO
  • Hold the next meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in September 2003


For further information contact the SIGTUR co-ordinator Rob Lambert on (08) 9380 2934.

SPOCTU – Meets in Fiji

The South Pacific and Oceania Council of Trade Unions met in Suva in September.

Due to general pressure on the ACTU at the time of the meeting no ACTU officer was able to attend. The sole Australian union representative was Mick Carr from the Brisbane office of the MUA.

SPOCTU is in need of reinvigoration. It has not performed at a high level since the restructure following the departure of Rod Ellis and Raghwan.

The decision of SPOCTU made reference to :


  • Need for recognition of cultural factors in the region
  • National centres to give greater priority to SPOCTU
  • Trade union development assistance needs to be continued
  • Unions need to develop better networks with NGOs


For more details contact Alan Matheson.

ICFTU – Changes at the Top

The ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan has retired from his position. His successor is Guy Ryder, a former ICFTU staff member who has occupied senior positions at the ILO for the last several years. Guy is a highly-respected international unionist/ILO officer.

Eddy Laurijssen has also stepped down from his Assistant Secretary position and will be appointed to head-up the ILO office in Brussels. A replacement for Eddy will be sought when Guy Ryder takes up his office.

ILO Meetings

Attached is a list of ILO Headquarters meetings scheduled for 2002 and 2003.

Should affiliates have an interest in attending a particular industry meeting, nominations should be made through your International Trade Secretariat e.g. PSI, IMF, UNI etc.