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Burma uses slave labour: union (Aus

Subject: Burma uses slave labour: union (Australian News Network) 

Burma uses slave labour: union (Australian News Network)     
By South-East Asia correspondent PETER ALFORD in Bangkok

BURMA'S military rulers have been accused by an international union group of
subjecting more than 800,000 people to forced labour. 

The Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
this week submitted 900 pages of fresh evidence of Burma's abuses to the
International Labour Organisation. 

The union group also called on Association of South-East Asian Nations
labour ministers either to boycott their annual meeting in Rangoon today and
tomorrow or to use the occasion to strongly urge the Burmese Government to
honour its obligations as a signatory to the ILO convention forbidding
extorted labour. 

However, neither suggestion will be taken up by the ministers who arrived in
Rangoon earlier this week. Although the regime's behaviour in this and other
matters is a continuing embarrassment to the rest of ASEAN, raising the
issue in a ministerial forum would be seen as a breach of the principle of
non-interference in the domestic affairs of member countries. 

But Burma faces further pressure this month from the ILO, which last year
held a special commission of inquiry into the situation. 

Despite denials by the ruling State Peace and Development Council, the ILO
found abundant evidence showing the pervasive use of forced labour imposed
on the civilian population. 

It found the practice was most widely used by the military for construction,
maintenance and servicing of military camps, road-building and
army-supervised activities like logging. 

Its report also accused the authorities of pressing injured and ill people
into service, widespread frequent beatings by soldiers, sexual abuse of
women workers, extortion and illegal punishment of people who refused to
comply with demands to work for the military. 

The ILO governing body gave Burma until last week to comply with the
report's recommendations, including cessation of the practice, punishment of
those responsible and amendment to bring its laws into line with ILO
Convention 29, which deals with forced labour. 

In the absence of any satisfactory response, the governing body has
instructed ILO director-general Juan Somavia to submit a fresh report by May

ICFTU general secretary Bill Jordan said the regime was using the civilian
population as a bottomless reservoir of free manpower, in contempt of the

ILO and its supervisory bodies.