International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

Violations of Trade Union Rights in Asia and the Pacific



















Many governments in Asia still viewed trade unions as alien institutions bent on frustrating economic progress. Their citizens, however, took a different view. There was unrest in several countries as people began to demand their share of Asia's economic miracle.

The prize for the most cynical manoeuvre of the year went to the government of South Korea. On December 26, the National Assembly met for ten minutes at six o'clock in the morning with no opposition members present, and rushed through anti-union laws just two months after the country had been admitted to the OECD promising it would bring its law into line with international standards.

Trade unions in Hong Kong remained fearful throughout 1996 about their fate after the territory is handed back to China. The Chinese regime continued to keep its workers on a tight rein, harassing and persecuting independent trade union activists with the blessing of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

Burma, Vietnam, and North Korea followed the same path, with unelected officials controlling fake unions.

In Indonesia, the government kept the pressure on the SBSI independent union centre, detaining its chairman, Muchtar Pakpahan, in the run-up to elections. Despite its stated intentions, the official union, the FSPSI, did little to improve its standing either among Indonesian workers, or the international trade union movement.

Australia's newly-elected conservative coalition government followed the example of New Zealand and wasted little time in launching a legislative onslaught on the unions, introducing laws to limit collective bargaining, and boost individual workplace agreements.

And in Turkey, the authorities used emergency legislation to detain union activists in the Kurdish region, alleging they were linked to the Kurdish separatist movement.


Not long after its election in March, the conservative coalition government introduced the Workplace Relations Bill. The bill represented a serious attack on trade union rights. It aimed to weaken the ability of unions to protect their members and to improve their pay and conditions.

The bill was designed to replace the existing system of wage-fixing and collective bargaining with workplace-based agreements. It gave individual representation and individual agreements primacy over collective representation and collective agreements. It also placed union and non-union agreements on the same footing.

The bill limited industry-wide collective agreements or awards to a basic set of conditions, and made it harder to achieve federal award coverage.

It made signed individual agreements, called Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), secret so that they could not be checked for breaches of minimum wages and working conditions.

The scope for legal strikes was narrowed and penalties for breaking the law were increased. It was made much harder for union organisers to get into workplaces.

The bill reduced the role of the Industrial Relations Commission which acts as an independent conciliation and arbitration body.

Some amendments were made to the bill after strong protests by the ACTU, which were supported by other sections of society, including a rally in the capital Canberra on 19 August. But the most restrictive aspects remained.

It was passed at the end of the year and was due to go into operation on 1 January 1997.

At the state level in Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, changes introduced since 1992 have made it harder for trade unions to represent their members and have promoted individual employment contracts.


Most big industries are owned by the state. Government-appointed boards and enterprise directors set wages. Unions have no input.

The adoption of a new law on dispute settlement which would lay down procedures for strikes continued to be postponed.

The penal code virtually bans strikes in transport services, the public sector, and state-owned enterprises. Penalties of up to three years in prison can be imposed for breaking the law.

The 1994 Law on Trade Unions bans all political activities by trade unions.


Members of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union (BIGU) continued to be persecuted in 1996.

The union, which is trying to organise the country's growing textile sector, was refused registration as a national union in 1995. After its application for registration was turned down, it appealed to the labour court. Anticipating long delays in the court proceedings, BIGU decided to register individual enterprise-level unions which would then form a national federation.

The branch union at the Palmal Knitwear Factory Workers' Union, in Uttara, Dhaka, which was one of the first to apply for registration, found itself under constant and brutal attack from management. Union members had been systematically abused at the factory in 1995.The Palmal Knitwear Factory Ltd. is owned by Nurul Huque Sikder, a vice-president of the Bangladesh employers' association, the BGMEA, and produces garments for US retail outlets Sears and J.C.Penney.

Palmal's management began to threaten union officials who were also followed by hired thugs.

On 18 May, Palmal management told workers that they had to sign a petition denouncing the union or they would lose their jobs. The union treasurer, Mujibor, was struck in the face by the general manager for refusing to sign it. He was beaten-up by a gang on his way home and had to go to hospital.

Two days later, the managing director of the factory, told the local authorities to make the union president, Kalpona, leave the district or else she would be killed. On the same day, the general manager told workers that if he needed to kill ten of them he would, but the factory would not have a union.

On 25 May, the Registrar of Trade Unions told the president of the union that the management had lodged a complaint against the union to try and obstruct its registration.

The complaint said that the union had been formed by outside enemy elements. The company said that the workers did not want a union and gave as evidence the petition which it had forced the workers to sign a week earlier.

The Registrar sent an official to investigate. The production manager told the workers to say that they didn't need a union. Those who protested were sent home so that they would not meet the official. The official questioned workers in the presence of management although they had requested otherwise.

On 27 May, Mujibor went back to work. At the gate, he was told that he no longer had a job. When he met other workers at break-time outside the factory, he was arrested and charged with "suspicious loitering". The company had filed a complaint against him with the police. He was held in a small police cell with five others. There were no beds nor ventilation. A prison officer told Mujibor that he had been asked to beat him by the factory manager.

When his wife tried to visit him the prison officials tried to make her pay to see him. They also stopped her giving him medicine.

The police, apparently under Palmal influence, asked the government to detain Mujibor indefinitely under the Special Powers Act, claiming that he was a terrorist. He was denied bail and only released nine days later after local and international intervention.

Another union activist, Siraj, was also detained on 27 May. He was later released without charge. He had filed two officials complaints to the police about the Palmal management. The police did not investigate these or any other complaints against the management and instead harassed or detained the plaintiffs.

On 2 June, a second inquiry took place at the Palmal factory, The workers were again asked in front of management whether or not they wanted a union. Both during and after the inquiry, the management tried to intimidate the workers.

On 6 June, the Registrar of Trade Unions rejected the Palmal union's application for registration, citing the petition of 18 May. There were reports that the Registrar's office had been bribed to deny registration to the union. The union appealed against the decision.

The Palmal union president, Kalpona, and its general secretary, Ruby, as well as other union activists said that they were followed and harassed by management and hired thugs.

On 9 April, workers at Saladin Garments Ltd. filed an application for registration with the Registrar of Trade Unions. A few days earlier the factory management had threatened workers involved in union organising and had demanded that they stop union activities and submit a list of union members.

On 8 and 9 April, the management interrogated one worker called Chand Mia, to find out which workers had joined the union. He was struck and threatened with a knife.

The union president, Asma, was interrogated by the managing director. He said that unless she stopped her union activities, the workers "will see five dead bodies after the [forthcoming national] election".

Union members received letters alleging misconduct and other warning letters. Workers were forced to stay late at their jobs and work during the night. Intimidation and public humiliation of workers became routine and the union general secretary and another worker resigned from their jobs.

The Registrar of Trade Unions rejected the union's application for registration on 3 June, falsely alleging that the union did not have the required number of workers. The union appealed against the decision.

At Unitex Apparels Ltd. union officials were fired when the union began organising. Fearing for their jobs, the union temporarily shelved its attempts to register.

At Gulf Garments Ltd. in Chittagong, when the union had enough members to have the union registered, the union president and general secretary were fired.

At Nishan Garments Ltd. the union filed an application for registration on 9 April. Shortly afterwards, the company sacked the union president, Mintu, the general secretary, Noyan, and another union member. The union was registered on 2 June but in spite of legal action, the sacked workers were not reinstated.

Instead, the management immediately cracked down on workers. Three more unionists were fired. Workers were struck, verbally abused and threatened, forced to work overtime until early morning, and denied leave.

At The Best Denim company, two union officials were fired and the remaining officials and activists were routinely beaten and intimidated.

On 7 July, the Juki Garments Workers' Union and the Alpine Limited Workers' Union requested registration. A few days later an official in the Registrar's office asked for a bribe in order to register the unions. The unions refused to pay and awaited the decision.

After the union was registered on 2 June, the leaders of the New Fashion Ltd. Workers' Union informed the company director and provided a list of union officials. Subsequently, union officials and activists were persecuted. The union president and others were followed by thugs who threatened them. Workers made official complaints to the police.

At Saleha Garments, owned by the president of the BGMEA, the union also informed management that it had been registered at the beginning of June. The management then began to harass, threaten, and interrogate unionists. It falsified resignation letters and fired the three union leaders.

Whole sectors of the workforce are barred from forming or joining unions at all, including: public sector workers; (except railways and posts and telecommunications); professional and managerial staff; workers in the rural electrification, jute research and civil aviation sectors.

In the private sector, free collective bargaining is not widespread and unionisation is generally discouraged. The law impedes collective bargaining in the small business sector. In the public sector, wages and working conditions are usually set by government-appointed wages commissions.

The Bangladesh EPZ Act of 1980 specifically prohibits unions in the EPZs. The government has said on several occasions that it would allow unions in the zones by 1997. So far this has come to nothing.

While some of these workers have formed associations or unregistered unions, they cannot bargain collectively.

Candidates for union office have to be a current or former employee of an establishment or group of establishments.

The Registrar of Trade Unions has wide powers to interfere into internal union affairs. He can enter trade union premises and inspect union documents. Unions also report that their activities are hindered by administrative decisions taken by the authorities.

Registration of trade unions is obligatory. Thirty per cent of workers in any workplace must belong to a union before it can be registered. If membership drops below 30 per cent, the union can be dissolved. Individuals can be punished for failing to register a union, or for carrying out trade union activities without registration.

Legal protection against anti-union discrimination is inadequate. Workers suspected of trade union activities can be transferred arbitrarily.

Unions are not protected against acts of interference from employers.

The right to strike is limited. Three-quarters of union members must agree to a strike. If a strike lasts more than 30 days, the government can ban it and refer it to the labour court for adjudication. A strike can be banned at any time if it is considered prejudicial to the national interest. The Essential Services Ordinance lets the government ban strikes for three months in any sector it considers "essential". Workers can be imprisoned for participating in an illegal strike.

The 1974 Special Powers Act can be used by the authorities to detain trade unionists without charge.

Although Bangladesh's National Labour Law Commission has reviewed labour law, and a draft code is reported to have been drawn up, the law was not changed in 1996.

Trade union members of the Commission had disagreed with many of the proposals for amendment, saying that they appeared to be aimed at destroying the unions. There were reports that more workers would be excluded from belonging to unions by restricting the definition of the term "worker" in the law. Unions would be banned in a wide range of organised industries, including banks, transport, and insurance.

Weak bargaining rights would be restricted further, as would the limited rights of public sector workers. The check-off system for union dues payment would be abolished.


Repression by the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC – Burma's military dictatorship) worsened during 1996. There were signs of growing discontent in the country. In May, the regime published a law allowing it to prevent political organisations denouncing state policies or proposing alternative constitutions. Crackdowns on the democratic movement resulted in many arrests and the imposition of prison sentences.

There are no trade union rights in Burma. The Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB), founded in 1991 by former trade union leaders, is forced to operate from outside the country. It co-ordinates its activities with the banned National League for Democracy (NLD), which won an election in 1990 but was prevented from taking office. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed her support for the FTUB and for independent trade unionism in Burma.

The FTUB continues to work with ethnic groups in border areas and to maintain underground structures linked to workplaces inside the country. Its activists are under surveillance by the police and military intelligence, and live in permanent fear of arrest and torture.

The Seafarers' Union of Burma, which forms part of the FTUB, works in exile to assist Burmese seafarers. There have been many cases of the regime's abuse and intimidation of seafarers who complained about underpayment and poor working conditions on foreign ships. The regime controls the employment of seafarers through the Seaman's Employment Control Division.

SLORC continued to control the National Convention, from which the NLD withdrew, in its task of drafting a new constitution for the country. Worker representatives to the Convention are selected and controlled by the regime.

Reports of unrest in September included news of a strike at the Myitngae railway factory in Mandalay which ended when the authorities gave basic foodstuffs to the workers.

There were also reports of a spontaneous strike at a joint-venture garment factory, partly owned by the SLORC's holding company, UMEH, which took place because the workers had not received the same holiday benefits as management.

A few minutes after the strike started, a high-ranking military officer arrived and told the workers that if they ever went on strike again, they would be imprisoned.


Cambodia's National Assembly debated a new labour law at the end of the year. There were reports that it vastly improved on the current law and gave workers the rights to organise, bargain collectively and strike.

The draft law, which was expected to be passed at the beginning of 1997, was reported to allow independent trade unions and to include procedures for their registration.

There were, however, fears that there would be either little or no enforcement of the new law. Although some provisions of the law in force protected workers, enforcement mechanisms were virtually non-existent. Complaints of abuses to the authorities were not dealt with properly. There were reports that the government's labour inspectors were not allowed into factories.

At the end of 1996, there was a wave of strikes in the mainly foreign-owned emerging garment industry in response to appalling working conditions and abuse of workers in the sector. Factory managers hired inexperienced young girls from the provinces and rural areas very cheaply and subjected them to long hours, compulsory overtime, insults, beatings, and strip searches in public.

They also denied them maternity leave. They dismissed pregnant workers without notice or compensation, as well as any who fell ill, made complaints or organised other workers.

It was reported that most of the garments manufactured are sold in Europe, and in the UK in particular.

On 10 December, workers in the industry signed a petition to start a union. The Free Trade Union of Khmer Workers held their first congress on 15 December. Participants were harassed by the police.

On 17 December, a strike involving around 3,000 mostly women textile workers took place at the Malaysian-owned Cambodia Garment Company in the capital, Phnom Penh. The workers were protesting at low pay and bad working conditions as well as attempts by the authorities to break up their newly-formed union.

The union said that supervisors hit the women when they considered their work was not satisfactory, and humiliated them in other ways.

Security guards fired shots at demonstrating workers although no-one was injured. Three union leaders, the president, Ou Mary, the vice-president, Om Navy, and the general secretary, Phoung Sophon, were held inside the factory for an hour, and told they would be sacked. The dispute eventually ended with an agreement being signed.

On 24 December, 300 women textile workers went on strike to demand better working conditions and marched to the National Assembly buildings.

A trade union of state employees, formed at the end of November, also held a demonstration outside government offices in support of pay demands.


Independent trade unions are illegal. They are suppressed by the government and their leaders are imprisoned. The official union, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), is strictly controlled by the ruling party which appoints key union officials. All unions, including enterprise or workplace unions, must have ACFTU approval and be under ACFTU leadership.

China's 1992 Trade Union Act says the aim of trade unions is to regulate labour so as to improve labour productivity and economic efficiency, and to play an active role in socialist modernisation under the Chinese Communist Party. Unions are to act as intermediaries between workers and management if a dispute occurs.

The 1993 revision of the ACFTU's constitution defined unions as "the link and bridge between the Chinese Communist Party and the working masses, and the representative of the interests of union members and non-union members".

China's first national labour code entered into force in January, 1995. The government said that it had introduced it to prevent abuses of workers' rights in enterprises which have foreign investment. It aimed to standardise employment principles and requirements in all types of enterprises, although over 150 million rural and industrial workers were excluded from its scope.

The law does not protect the right to collective bargaining and does not mention the right to strike. This right was removed from the Chinese constitution in 1982 on the grounds that the political system had "eradicated problems between the proletariat and enterprise owners".

The new code included four new principles: formal labour contracts for all workers in all types of enterprises; labour arbitration and inspection divisions to be established at all levels of provincial and local government to resolve labour disputes and ensure compliance with labour regulations; workers in all types of enterprises can engage in collective bargaining in negotiating labour contracts; and enterprises can fire workers for economic reasons without state approval.

It said that collective contracts can be concluded through negotiation between enterprise management and enterprise union officials, or, in the absence of a union, elected worker representatives. The contracts can relate to wages, working hours, and rest days. They must be approved by the local government within 15 days.

In reality, collective bargaining does not take place. Employment contracts are drawn up by employers who set wages and conditions, in cases where they are not set by law. There were many reports that enterprise managers ignored the new law and that enforcement was minimal.

In the early 1990s, the Minister of Labour ordered the ACFTU to set up trade unions in all foreign-invested companies. Estimates put the ACFTU's organisation rate at about one third at the most, although in the southern province of Guangdong, which hosts the majority of foreign and joint venture companies, including the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, the ACFTU claimed a 46.3 per cent organisation rate in early 1996.

These unions are either under Communist Party control; controlled by factory directors; or turned into social clubs. In all cases, local union committee members are appointed by the Communist Party or higher-level union committees. The position of union chairperson is often filled by the plant directors.

The authorities repress any strikes, though many take place over issues such as the non-implementation of the labour law; low wages; poor working conditions; low health and safety standards; long hours and forced overtime; unreasonable management discipline; and sometimes physical abuse.

ACFTU unions do not initiate strikes - in fact, they are often called in by employers and local authorities to get strikers back to work. The Labour Bureaux also give preferential treatment to employers during mediation of labour disputes, as often there is an overlap between enterprise management, local party and government personnel.

In Guangdong province, the provincial Labour Bureau passed a strike policy in 1994 saying that a strike with 30 or more participants must be reported to the provincial labour bureau by its local branches within four hours, followed by a detailed report in eight hours. In "serious cases and threats to stability", local government officials should be at the scene within two hours to prevent an escalation of the strike. If necessary, the authorities can use force or threats to make workers resume production.

In some large plants, work committees, comprising officials from local ACFTU branches, from the Labour Bureaux, and the PSB, have been set up to monitor and pre-empt worker action. In many medium and large enterprises, detention facilities exist and security officials can detain and sentence protesting workers to three years in a labour camp (laogai).

In June, a Communist Party circular called on party officials to be on their guard against illegal unions which, it said, could have anti-government and anti-socialist tendencies. It said that since the spring they had been responsible for hundreds of strikes demanding jobs, more pay, and more decision-making powers for workers.

The National Security Law, the Regulations on Re-education through Labour, and the Regulations on Reform through Labour, allow activists who attempt to organise independent labour action to be detained and imprisoned. Re-education through labour (laojiao) is being increasingly used as a form of administrative detention because it avoids the need for a trial and allows local police to hand out sentences of a maximum of three years in a forced labour camp.

In January 1996, Zhou Guoqiang, a labour activist and labour lawyer, imprisoned in a labour camp in the Heilongjiang province in north-east China, was seriously ill with tuberculosis. He was denied medical care and had been ill-treated in prison. In December, 1996, he was prevented from having family visits. He had been arrested in 1994 and sentenced to three years "re-education through labour", for his involvement with the League for the Protection of the Rights of Working People (LPRWP). The LPRWP had applied for official registration, and published a founding charter and memorandum to the authorities. In 1995, he was sentenced to an additional year in jail, allegedly for trying to escape.

During May and June 1996, his wife, Wang Hui, was detained for 27 days. On 18 May, she was reported to have been kicked and beaten by the prison doctor, and beaten again the same day by a prison guard. She was re-arrested on 20 September after making a statement protesting against the persecution of families of political prisoners. She reported constant police surveillance and intimidation. She had been detained several times - beginning in 1995.

In July 1996, the wife of LPRWP leader, Liu Nianchun, finally found out that he had been sentenced to three years forced labour and was imprisoned in Shuanghe labour camp. He had been detained several times since March, 1994, before being detained in 1995 by the Beijing police in a series of arrests to pre-empt commemorations of the Tianenmen Square massacre. His health had been severely damaged by his detention and he had been beaten. His sentence did not include the year he had already served. His wife, Chu Hailan, was also briefly detained and put under constant surveillance.

Other LRPWP activists, Xiao Biguang and Zhang Lin, were serving three-year forced labour sentences after being arrested in March, 1994. Xiao Biguang's wife, Gou Qinhai, was put under close surveillance. Zhang Lin is serving his sentence in a prison coal mine in Anhui province. Yuan Hongbin, was reported to be detained in a library, without charge or trial.

In November 1996, Li Wenming and Guo Baosheng went on trial in Shenzen. They had been detained in May, 1994, together with Kuang Lezhuang, Liao Hetang, Fang Yipin, He Fei, Zeng Jiecheng, Lan Chunquan, Wu Chun, Zheng Wuyan, and Wan Xiaoying, for creating an independent workers' organisation in the Shenzen Special Economic Zone. They had published a bulletin, "Workers Forum", criticising working conditions in factories. Kuang Lezhuang has been released. The others are believed to be serving forced labour sentences after being sentenced administratively.

In a significant development, the charge against Li Wenming and Guo Baosheng was changed to subversion, a more serious charge, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment with forced labour. They were originally charged with counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement. It was believed that this might be a warning to other union activists. They had not been sentenced by the end of 1996.

Several trade union and human rights activists known as the "Beijing 16" were serving prison sentences in 1996 after being arrested in 1992 and sentenced in 1994 for their involvement in the Free Labour Union of China (FLUC). Hu Shigen was in a forced labour institution after being sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for taking part in the founding of the preparatory committee of the FLUC and drafting a pamphlet, "On Free Trade Unions".

Kang Yuchun, Liu Jingsheng and Wang Guoqi were sentenced to 17, 15 and 11 years respectively for organising the FLUC. Lu Zhigang, Wang Tiancheng, Chen Wei, and Zhang Chunzhu, were all sentenced to five years imprisonment for activities in connection with the founding of the FLUC, and Rui Chaohuai was given a three-year sentence.

In January, 1996, Zheng Shaoqiang and Chen Rongyan, taxi drivers from Zhuhai were arrested and sentenced to two-years re-education through labour after organising a half-day strike by 200 taxi drivers to protest at the harsh penalties being imposed on drivers who commit minor traffic violations. Hu Yunquan got a one-year sentence. Five others were also detained and given prison sentences of 10-15 days. Armed police and security officials had blockaded the strikers.

In 1996, many labour activists were still in prison or forced labour camps because they had been involved with the creation of the Workers' Autonomous Federations (WAFS) during the 1989 pro-democracy movement. It was the first open attempt since 1949 to organise independent unions, and was violently repressed.

Han Dongfang, a co-founder of the WAFS, remained in Hong Kong in 1996, on a temporary working visa, after being deported from China in 1993. He was in theory stateless after the Chinese authorities announced that his passport had been invalidated. They accused him of "presenting anti-government and anti-Chinese speeches" at the 1993 conference of the International Labour Organisation. His future in Hong Kong after the July 1997 hand-over to China looks uncertain.

Wang Miaogen from the Shanghai WAF was still imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital in Shanghai, run by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) after being forcibly committed in 1993. He had also been detained in 1989 and had served a three-year prison sentence. Hu Nianyou and Yao Guisheng of the Changsa WAF were respectively serving life and 15-year prison sentences.

Worker activists Chen Gang, Peng Shi and Liu Zhihua from Hunan were serving sentences in Hunan Longxi prison. They were sentenced to life imprisonment after allegedly setting their factory's security office on fire to protest against beatings of students in 1989. Chen Gang's sentence was commuted on appeal from the death sentence.

Members of the Hunan WAF were still imprisoned in 1996. Wang Changhuai and Zhang Jingsheng were serving 13-year prison sentences; Mao Yuejin was serving 15 years, and Wang Zhaobo, Huang Fan, Huang Lixin, Pan Qiubao and Yuan Shuzhu were serving between seven and fifteen years. Guo Yunqiao was sentenced to death in 1989 but obtained a two-year stay of execution. He was later given a minimum 15-year prison sentence.

Hu Min and Wan Yuewang of Yueyang WAF were respectively serving prison sentences of 15 years and 7-15 years. Tang Yuanjuan from Jilin WAF was serving a 20-year sentence, Leng Wanbao, 13 years, and Li Wei, eight years.

Li Xiaodong and Li Wangyang of Shaoyang WAF were serving 13-year sentences, Zhu Fangming of Hengyang WAF was serving life. Wang Ning of Tianjin WAF, was serving an eight-year sentence.

A Chinese ex-seafarer, Miao Qi Hai, who was detained as an illegal immigrant in Hong Kong's Pik Uk Prison in October, 1996, after escaping from China, highlighted the violations of the rights of the approximately 150,000 seafarers.

Miao Qi Hai was imprisoned in China in 1993 after complaining about the treatment of seafarers on his first voyage. He tried to make contact with the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) after his release, and was again imprisoned. When he was released again, he was kept under surveillance, and the authorities threatened him with legal action for revealing state secrets because he had told the ITF about wages and working conditions.

In June 1996, the ILO criticised China for violating the trade union rights of Chinese seafarers serving on foreign flag ships.


The government of Fiji continued to refuse to amend the anti-trade union labour decrees of 1991 – which were designed to divide workers on racial and cultural grounds. They made union organising almost impossible and regulated trade union activity in minute detail.

The decrees were brought in by the government which was installed after the military coups in 1987. Although a subsequent democratic government made four minor amendments to the decrees in 1993, the most offensive clauses remain.

Under the decrees, industrial associations, to which many Fijian workers belong, cannot strike, and certain groups of workers, including supervisory personnel, cannot join unions.

The decrees provided for compulsory recognition procedures administered by government officials. This led to the promotion of employer-sponsored organisations, and the registration of unions on racial and political lines. It also undermined collective bargaining since only unions representing 50 per cent of the workers in an enterprise could be recognised as bargaining agents.

The decrees banned strikes over union recognition. This makes union organising virtually impossible by allowing employers to dismiss union members or intimidate them into leaving a union before it is recognised. It is particularly prevalent in the textile industry. Employers also delay and frustrate compulsory recognition orders through judicial reviews, during which workers are not protected against dismissals and transfers and cannot strike. While the law protects against anti-union discrimination, it does not mandate that workers fired for union activities must be reinstated.

The decrees imposed unreasonable and restrictive strike ballot procedures. While the 1993 changes repealed the six-week validity period for union strike ballots, the government retained its supervision of strike ballots. Legal rights to check-off facilities were withdrawn, and minutely-regulated, long, and expensive procedures were imposed for the collection of union dues. The election of union officials became lengthy and expensive.

Anyone violating the decrees faces heavy fines or imprisonment .

Although negotiations between the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC) and the Labour Ministry over the past two years resulted in an understanding to implement important changes in the law, the government has refused to make the changes.

The Ministry of Labour recognised that substantial problems existed with the decrees, including the high costs to the government of supervising secret ballots. It also recognised that the decrees encouraged the registration of unions along racial and political lines and the forming of breakaway groups from existing major unions, as well as creating difficulties for the Ministry in administering trade union recognition procedures. The Ministry agreed to reintroduce legislation for check-off and to allow strikes over recognition.

Although a sub-committee of the Labour Advisory Board was formed in July 1996 to discuss labour reforms, the government was slow in conducting its business and no progress had been made by the end of the year. Neither had meetings of the Tripartite Forum, formally reactivated in 1995, discussed any of the industrial relations issues as the government had confined the meetings to procedural questions.

The government also failed to keep its promise to amend legislation so as to protect unions against acts of interference by employers.

Reports continued of hostility to trade unions in Fiji's tax free zones where employers prevented unions from organising. Conditions of employment are poor. Sexual harassment, denial of maternity leave and denial of annual leave are typical features of working conditions in the zones.

In 1996, workers tried to organise at the Footwear International factory in the zones. The company agreed to recognise a branch of the National Union of Factory and Commercial Workers, but instead sacked 15 union members on the pretext of economic difficulties. Other union members left the union out of fear of losing their jobs.

A strike by the Fiji Bank Employees' Union began on 24 July at the state-owned National Bank of Fiji over the government's refusal to discuss a redundancy package with the union. Unions claim that the necessity for redundancies only arose because of bad management and failure to protect the banks deposits.

On 25 July, the government declared the strike illegal and subjected it to compulsory arbitration.Eventually, after pressure, the government negotiated a redundancy package. At the beginning of August the police were conducting investigations into the strike with a view to arresting its leaders.

During the year substantial progress was made towards replacing Fiji's 1990 racist and undemocratic constitution which ensures the political dominance of ethnic Fijians.


Hong Kong's independent trade unions remained fearful that the Chinese regime will ban them, or curtail their activities and impose a state-controlled single trade union system, after the 1997 handover of the territory to China.

In September, a survey of 142 trade unions found that the unions were afraid that Beijing may force them to disband because of "union leaders' political involvement".

Independent unionists were also apprehensive about the risk of persecution, such as intimidation and harassment of trade unionists and their families. At the very least, they feared the regime would restrict democratic freedoms, and cut labour and welfare rights.

Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, Hong Kong becomes a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China on 1 July 1997. The agreement gives Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs, for a fifty-year period under the principle of "one country, two systems".

The Basic Law, adopted in 1990 by the United Kingdom and China, will be the constitution for the Hong Kong SAR. It is not fully democratic and China will be able to interpret and implement it as it wishes. Independent trade unions say that the Basic Law poses a direct threat to their existence and operations.

Article 23 of the Basic Law prohibits political organisations, which by legal definition may include the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), from establishing links with foreign organisations. This has provoked fears of a ban on international trade union affiliation.

At the same time, the Basic Law guarantees that provisions of ILO Conventions as currently applied to Hong Kong will remain in force after the handover.

In March, China announced it would replace Hong Kong's elected Legislative Council (LegCo) with a Provisional Legislature which will be "elected" by a body that has been appointed by China. China said that the legislature would repeal Hong Kong's 1991 Bill of Rights, which takes precedence over the Basic Law.

Hong Kong law as it stands does not adequately protect basic trade union rights. In particular it does not provide an institutional framework for union recognition and collective bargaining. This means that trade unions, to some extent, can only serve as pressure groups and organisers or advisers of workers.

Trade unionists risk victimisation and dismissal for organising unions and carrying out trade union activities. Unions often keep membership lists secret to prevent victimisation. While the law protects against anti-union discrimination, the burden of proof lies with the worker. It is difficult to prove that employers are discriminating against union leaders. There is no provision in the law for reinstatement, but only for employers to be fined. The Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, reported that the fines had been substantially increased during 1996.

Union confederations can only be established by unions in the same occupation, trade or industry. National centres are regarded as "civil associations", as are political parties, and have no protection in law. They are obliged to register under the Societies Ordinance.

The authorities must give permission before unions can affiliate internationally.

There are no collective bargaining rights in Hong Kong. The law does not provide for a union to win recognition or to conduct collective bargaining with employers. The authorities do not promote or encourage bargaining. Less than five per cent of workers are covered by agreements which have no legal binding. Employers generally refuse to recognise unions. While the government consults public servants over their pay and conditions, there is no collective bargaining in the public sector.

The right to strike is not protected in the law. Under common law practice, employers can dismiss striking employees for breaking their employment contracts. Employers can also claim damages from workers and use threats of disciplinary action, cuts in pay, and demotions to deter strikes. Trade unionists on picket lines can be forced to disperse under the Public Order Ordinance.

The Governor of Hong Kong has the authority to suspend or dismiss public servants "under sufficient cause". This authority was used to intimidate postal workers from going on strike in 1990.

The Governor said in 1996 that a comprehensive review of Hong Kong's labour relations system was being conducted. He also announced that plans were being finalised to improve protection against unfair dismissal.

In 1996, the Executive Secretary of the HKCTU notified the LegCo of his intention to introduce a private member's bill in early 1997, to provide a satisfactory legal framework for trade unions in the post-July 1997 period.

The bill would aim to protect the rights of trade unions to representation, consultation and collective bargaining and was intended to provide a legal "yardstick", for China to respect after the handover.

On 11 January, six trade union activists were arrested while holding a demonstration outside the venue of the World Toy and Games Fair in Hong Kong. They were campaigning for a charter for the safe production of toys. The police assaulted them, and left some of them needing urgent medical attention. The police also stood by and watched as the activists were attacked by security guards.

In October, a Chinese ex-seafarer, Miao Qi Hai, was detained as an illegal immigrant in Hong Kong's Pik Uk Prison. The Hong Kong authorities planned to deport him to China on 7 November. Miao Qi Hai feared that he would be persecuted.

He had escaped to Hong Kong after being imprisoned in China in 1993 for complaining about the treatment of seafarers on his first voyage. He tried to make contact with the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) after his release, and was again imprisoned. When he was released he was kept under surveillance and the authorities threatened him with legal action for revealing state secrets.

The Chinese government has used severe tactics to discourage seafarers from contacting the ITF. It accused them of divulging state secrets because they told the ITF about their wages and working conditions while they docked in foreign ports. The authorities arrested them on their return to China, and some were detained for over a year.

After an international trade union campaign, the order for immediate deportation was lifted and an application was made for Miao to obtain refugee status in Hong Kong.


The government has restricted the right to strike in two of India's export processing zones (EPZs) - the Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone (SEEPZ) near Bombay and the Kandla Free Trade Zone – by giving them Public Utility status under the Industrial Disputes Act.

This makes strikes illegal unless they are preceded by specified reconciliation procedures involving the Labour Commissioners' Office.

In practice, it is difficult even to form unions in the zones; union organisers are not allowed in and workers in different enterprises are prevented from contacting each other. Each company buses its workers directly to and from the factory door.

The Tandon Group of Companies in the SEEPZ, which exports computer parts, sacked a group of workers who went on strike in the first half of the year, and banned them from entering the company's premises. Two workers, Khairunisa Namdar Turki and Geeta Patil, said that the company was a virtual prison and filed a case for reinstatement in the labour court in July.

Ninety per cent of the workers employed in the SEEPZ are women who are generally too young and frightened to form unions. The working conditions are bad and overtime is compulsory. Workers fear victimisation by management and those who protest are immediately sacked.

Many workers in the SEEPZ work in the electronics sector and are employed by fictitious contractors on temporary contracts rather than directly by the company. When Khairunisa Namdar Turki wrote an official letter to the Tandon Group asking to be reinstated, the company denied that they had ever employed her.

A strike at the Tandon Group of Companies in 1994 resulted in the arrest of around 1,500 workers. One hundred and fifty were dismissed.


Muchtar Pakpahan, general chairman of the independent Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union, the SBSI, was arrested in July. The government appeared determined to make sure he got a lengthy term in prison, and to wipe out the SBSI, in what was widely seen as part of an attempt to stifle opposition before the elections in 1997 and 1998.

Indonesia's industrial relations system is designed to promote Pancasila, the government-sponsored national ideology, which pretends to stress consensus, national unity and social justice.

The FSPSI is the only legal union centre. It is controlled and directed by the government and was set up in 1973 in a government-ordered restructuring of unions.

The government views industrial relations as a security issue and justifies its control of the FSPSI by the need to maintain law and order.

At the organisation's 1995 congress, there were indications for the first time that the congress was held without overt interference from the government or the military.

Retired military leaders hold leadership positions in FSPSI and its affiliated unions’ regional and district branches. This is justified by the official ideology of "dual functioning" which gives the military a role in the social and economic development of the country, in addition to defence. The authorities have also said that working people do not have the necessary education, leadership experience and expertise.

The FSPSI adopted a new constitution at its congress. While it said that to be eligible for union office, a candidate had to have served at least five years in the union movement - providing the basis for the reduction and eventual elimination of military personnel in the FSPSI - it did not get rid of military personnel who already hold office. It also restructured itself as a federation with industrial unions. Previously it had been organised on a unitary structure.

Trade union organisations outside the FSPSI are repressed. Their activities are obstructed by security agents, and their officials are harassed, often arrested and jailed.

The SBSI was set up in 1992. The Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Manpower have refused to register it several times, even though the union has said it has fulfilled the necessary criteria. The ILO has also strongly recommended that the union should be registered.

The SBSI has been constantly intimidated and harassed by the security forces. Over 5,000 workers are reported to have been dismissed and blacklisted for being SBSI members during 1992-96. There is a permanent threat of military interference in SBSI meetings, and police or military officials frequently visit its offices. Many branch leaders have been intimidated by security forces into resigning from the union.

From mid-1995 onwards, the SBSI said that they were able to carry out their activities with less harassment, but said that much depended on the attitude of the local military commander.

Public servants, and workers in state enterprises cannot join trade unions. They have to belong to the Indonesian Corps of Civil Servants, KORPRI, which the government set up in 1971. It does not claim to be a union; it is not independent of the government; and it cannot carry out trade union functions. The KORPRI Central Development Council is chaired by the Minister of Home Affairs.

Teachers can only belong to the government-controlled PGRI, which was given trade union status in 1990. It does not perform a union function, but carries out welfare activities and plays an important role in the management of the education system.

In the private sector, collective bargaining is restricted. The requirements for recognition as a bargaining agent maintain the FSPSI monopoly: fifty per cent of workers in an enterprise; at least 100 units at plant level; 25 organisations at district level; and five organisations at provincial level, or alternatively, at least 10,000 members throughout Indonesia. The FSPSI must also give its approval.

A January 1994 decree, which was confirmed by the Director General of Manpower in April 1995, said that independent unions could be set up in a workplace and did not have to join the FSPSI. They could negotiate collective agreements in enterprises with at least 25 employees and where at least half of the workforce agreed to the establishment of the union.

The decree contradicted the legal requirements for recognition as a bargaining agent. Shortly afterwards, the government issued a regulation which said that if an independent enterprise union wanted to federate, it had to join an FSPSI-affiliated sectoral union.

By the beginning of 1996, around 900 non-FSPSI workplace unions had been set up. Guideline 348 was issued in 1995 which said that an employer's permission was no longer needed before an enterprise union could be formed.

There were again reports of company-controlled unions being formed by employers with the complicity of the Ministry of Manpower and its provincial representatives, who took bribes from employers. If workers tried to set up independent workplace unions, they were usually threatened with the sack.

Where independent workplace unions were set up, they were often visited after several months by government officials or security agents who advised them to join the FSPSI.

Public officials or representatives of the security forces often participate in "collective bargaining" between workers and employers in enterprises. The contents of agreements reached are frequently ignored by employers. In most cases the agreements only repeat minimum wage provisions in force.

The law does not adequately protect workers against acts of anti-union discrimination. Employers can invoke "lack of harmony in the working relationship" to justify sacking workers who join unions. Although 1992 legislation banned interference by employers in trade union affairs, there was no evidence that the law was implemented.

Complicated mediation and compulsory arbitration procedures make legal strikes virtually impossible. Strikes can be held in private enterprises which are not considered vital to the national interest. Nearly all strikes are short wildcat strikes which are immediately ended by police or military intervention after a request from the company. The FSPSI and its sectoral federations never lead or support strikes. FSPSI workplace branches generally intervene on the side of management when a dispute occurs.

The majority of strikes take place because employers ignore labour laws and pay below the minimum wage, although in 1996 strikers also made some political demands.

The army continued to intervene in strikes. Most employers have close ties with local police or army units. The government revoked one of a series of regulations permitting military intervention in industrial disputes in January, 1994; but the army can intervene under a 1986 decree, "particularly in cases pertaining to strikes, work contracts, dismissals, and changes in status or ownership of a company".

A 1990 decree says that the internal security agency, Bakorstanas, can intervene in strikes in the interests of political and social stability.

Local government officials and security agents kept workers under surveillance during strikes, participated in negotiations, and detained, arrested and interrogated them.

Roliati Harefa, vice-chairwoman of the SBSI Binjai branch, remained in detention at the beginning of the year. She was arrested on 30 December, 1995, during a crackdown on the SBSI, and charged with assaulting her employer. She had been sacked and beaten up by her employer for union activities. She was released conditionally on 27 January and later re-arrested on 15 April.

Ahmad Taufik, Eko Maryadi and Danang Wardayo of the independent journalists’ union, the AJI, were still in prison after being arrested in March, 1995, and sentenced to four years. In August, they were transferred from a prison in Jakarta to a prison some 200 miles from their families. Danang Wardayo was released by the end of the year. The Ministry of Information bans the media from employing AJI members. During 1996, the authorities arrested the publisher of the AJI journal.

Workers at the PT Indoshoes factory in Tangerang, West Java, which produces sports shoes for the Adidas and Reebok companies, downed tools on 18-19 June to press for better pay, lower prices and political change. After an all-night sit-in at the local parliament building, riot police attacked workers with sticks and shields. Dita Sari, the Surabaya chairwoman of the PPBI student activists and workers' organisation, was arrested and charged with publicly expressing hatred for the government.

The beginning of July saw a series of protests over wages, and army intervention in strikes. The demonstrations also demanded political change, and supported Megawati, former leader of the PDI, one of the three officially-recognised political parties whom security forces, acting on the instructions of President Suharto, had ousted as PDI leader in June.

The PPBI organised a massive strike and protest in Surabaya, East Java on 8 July, calling for an increase in the minimum wage, lower prices, and outside monitoring of the 1997-98 elections. The police and army prevented the workers, who were marching in two groups, from joining together. Many workers were seriously injured and a dozen had to go to hospital. Many others were arrested although most of them were later released. Three, including Dita Sari, remained in detention.

On Saturday 27 July, security forces stormed PDI headquarters to stop their serving as a rallying point for Megawati.

An opposition demonstration turned into a riot when thousands of pro-democracy activists protested against the raid. Five people were killed and many were injured. Many others disappeared and had not been traced by the end of the year.

On 29 July, the Attorney General's office arrested Muchtar Pakpahan in the capital, Jakarta, on six alleged charges linking him to the riots. The SBSI had publicly supported Megawati and had issued statements calling for the respect of human and trade union rights, and democracy. Pakpahan had spoken at free-speech forums held at PDI headquarters, which had been banned two days before PDI headquarters were stormed.

The authorities used the riot as an excuse for a crackdown on independent trade union and political organisations. They blamed the unrest on a new political party, the PRD, which they said was Marxist, and charged its leaders with subversion. The PPBI is linked to the PRD.

Pakpahan was detained and interrogated. The charges carried a sentence of between eight years in prison and the death penalty. He was formally charged on 2 August under the 1963 Anti-Subversion Act.

At the same time as being arrested in connection with the riots, he had also been summoned to the Attorney General's Office in respect to his role in MARI, a coalition of NGOs and independent political parties, which had been set up to support the PDI.

Eight other SBSI leaders and around 60 SBSI activists in the provinces were interrogated or detained. Around 200 people were detained altogether. Many were beaten in custody.

The FSPSI issued a statement on 6 August supporting the government's repression as well as the arrest of Pakpahan.

On 9 August, the police searched SBSI offices and Pakpahan's home and took files, membership lists and correspondence with international unions.

Pakpahan filed a lawsuit against his arrest. He said that his arrest warrant was illegal because it did not refer to any specific actions or give any details.

A court upheld his imprisonment on 19 August. His request to have visits, to see a priest, and to have a guitar and sunlight was turned down. He was also suffering from bad health.

Police and military officials continued to seize and interrogate SBSI branch leaders. Ginggin from the Bandung branch was arrested on 19 August and detained for several days. The houses of the chairman of the Medan branch, Riswan Lubis, and the regional co-ordinator for North Sumatra, Amosi Telaumbanua, were burgled and various documents and books were taken. During one week in August, they were summoned by security police and interrogated for 15-hour periods.

On 6 September, the SBSI acting chairman, Tohap, was interrogated for 13 hours. The general secretary, Sunarty, was interrogated for 10 hours on 30 August and on 11 September. Jacob Ereste, Mehbob and Sulistri were each interrogated for at least ten hours.

Pakpahan's detention warrant was prolonged each month. He was interrogated several times. The majority of the questions related to the SBSI's activities, its social, economic and political demands, its international union contacts, and its Indonesian contacts.

SBSI officials and activists continued to report harassment; their offices were raided or they were told to close them down. The SBSI branch office in Petunkangan, South Jakarta, was given seven days to close down on 11 October, on the grounds that the SBSI's use of the premises was not legally permitted.

In October, the official Indonesian Human Rights Commission, released their report on the events of 27 July. They held the government and the security forces responsible for the events.

On 15 October, police detained Wan Jumaizi and Suwardi, chairman and secretary of the Workers' Welfare Communications Forum (FKBS) in Lampung. They took them to a military command post and interrogated them for three hours about a complaint they had filed with the SBSI central legal aid office, and about their contacts with Muchtar Pakpahan.

At the beginning of November, it was still unclear what exactly the charges against Pakpahan would be because they had changed several times.

On 19 November, while apparently unable to prepare a solid court case against Pakpahan, the Supreme Court re-imposed Pakpahan's four-year prison sentence in connection with the 1994 Medan strikes, in an unprecedented ruling owing to political manipulation. Pakpahan said he would fight the decision.

In March, the Attorney General in Medan, North Sumatra, had said that he would seek a judicial review of the May 1995 Supreme Court decision to free Pakpahan which had quashed the sentence he had received for his alleged involvement in the strikes. Pakpahan, who had spent nine months in prison, had not been in Medan at the time.

They were fears that Pakpahan would be transferred to prison in Medan where the authorities might orchestrate an "attack" on him.

The date for the opening of the trial of Pakpahan and several others, from the PPBI and other organisations, was set for 12 December. Pakpahan's hearing lasted two hours. The judge was clearly biased and tried to intimidate the defence. The trial was adjourned until 19 December and thereafter was expected to meet twice a week until May 1997. Pakpahan was not expected to get a fair trial because of the political control of the judiciary.

The charge sheet made no mention of the 27 July riots and it became clear that Pakpahan was being tried for his leadership of the SBSI and his political opinions. Evidence against him included a poem about the trade unionist, Marsinah, who had been murdered in 1993, speeches calling for an increase in the minimum wage, and a statement favouring a referendum in East Timor.

Dita Sari was also charged with subversion. Her trial began on 16 December. She was tortured in prison.

The government said in October that during the first three-quarters of the year, strikes were up 20 per cent on the previous year and were mostly over non-payment of the minimum wage.

On 17 April, eleven union leaders at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Corporation (HSBC) in Jakarta and 189 members were sacked. A dispute had begun at the end of 1995 over the company’s failure to negotiate a new collective agreement and its attempt to impose a retirement scheme. This failed, but led to a series of anti-union tactics by the management. Two hundred employees went on strike and their salaries were withheld. Some were obliged to return to work and had to accept new working conditions, loss of service, a probationary period, and resignation from the union. The strike was never supported by the FSPSI or its banks and services federation.

In July, the labour court instructed the HSBC to reinstate them and to pay the salaries. It refused and appealed. In September, the court reviewed its initial ruling and said that the union officials should not be reinstated.

By the end of the year the salaries had still not been paid and 85 union members were still unemployed.

On 18 April, an agreement was reached at the Jagat Baja Prima Utama Work Shop about the establishment of a union branch. A collective agreement was signed and the management promised not to sack the workers' representatives - then, on 22 April, the company interrogated four workers' representatives and sacked them. Security guards were told not to let them onto the premises.

An SBSI branch was formed at PT Tris Delta Agrindo in Central Lampung on 8 May. Two days later a district official of the Department of Manpower told them that unless they left the SBSI, they would be sacked. The union shop steward was forced into resigning from office.

On 20 July, an SBSI meeting in Bogor was broken up by the police.

In August, over 1,000 employees at the food processing company, PT Monde Mahkota Biscuit, in East Jakarta went on strike because they were forced to do unpaid overtime. Management forced some of the strikers to sign forms saying they agreed to be sacked. The workers took the matter to the National Commission of Human Rights.


A change in the law in 1995 allowed fire-fighters to set-up staff committees in fire stations. Previously there had been a total ban on their right to organise.

Public employees in national and local government, including teachers, cannot take part in free collective bargaining, or strike.

Workers in state enterprises cannot strike and cannot bargain on issues concerning the management and operation of the enterprises.

Penal sanctions can be applied to workers who go on strike in these sectors.


An article in the Civil Code passed by parliament in 1995 bans trade unions from receiving financial assistance from abroad, including from international trade union organisations. The same provision was subsequently included in the 1995 constitution.

Kazakhstan's independent trade unions said that the authorities continued to obstruct their activities and interfere in their affairs. Independent union leaders reported illegal arrests, searches and harassment.


There are no independent trade unions in North Korea. Strikes are banned.

The state-controlled General Federation of Trade Unions is the only union organisation. It exists to mobilise workers behind state-set production targets, and to provide health, educational, cultural and welfare facilities to workers.

There is no collective bargaining. The state assigns all jobs and sets wages. Joint venture companies must hire their staff from lists drawn up by the ruling party of workers vetted for their ideological purity.

North Korea announced the creation of a free trade zone in Najin-Sonbong, near the border with Russia and China, in 1995. It was reported that the zone would be fenced off and strikes would be banned.


South Korea's National Assembly met in secret on 26 December and adopted new anti-labour laws making the KCTU union centre illegal until the year 2,000. The Assembly met for ten minutes at six o'clock in the morning when no opposition members were there. Two months earlier the country had been admitted to the OECD following a commitment to bring the law into line with international standards.

The new law also broke a pledge to reform its labour law made by South Korea when it joined the ILO in 1991.

The new law lifts restrictions allowing only one union at workplace, sectoral, and national level for industrial unions, federations and national centres from the year 2,000, and for enterprise level unions from the year 2,002.

Until then the FKTU union centre will remain the only legally-recognised union with exclusive rights to organise. The government had refused to register the KCTU in November 1995.

The law allows companies to replace strikers by transferring workers within the company or hiring sub-contractors during a dispute. They can also hire outside workers as temporary strike-breakers where there is a closed shop, where they can’t find suitable replacements within the enterprise, or where the dispute is expected to result in significant losses.

Workers are banned from occupying production lines during a strike, and from obstructing the free entry of workers and preventing them from working.

Workers cannot be paid while on strike, and dismissed workers no longer have the right to be union members.

It will become illegal for full-time union officials to be paid in part or full by their employer.

Public servants, and public and private school teachers will still not be able to join unions, bargain collectively, or strike. Exceptions are granted for manual workers in the state-owned railways, telecommunications, postal administration, and health services.

The ban on third-party intervention, under which over 2,000 trade unions had been jailed, was redefined. Previously it had banned trade unionists not directly involved in a dispute from advising or offering any form of assistance or solidarity to unions, and ruled out mediation efforts by outsiders. The new provisions specify those organisations or individuals who can assist trade unions or employers in the course of a dispute. Any other party is prohibited.

The ban on unions engaging in political activities and giving support to political parties, financial or otherwise, was lifted.

The authorities can still change union rules and decisions, nominate convenors of extraordinary union congresses, conduct investigations into internal union matters and nullify or modify collective agreements.

Public sector workers, and local and national government workers cannot strike. Disputes can be referred to arbitration and strikes can be banned in public utilities considered as "essential services" including public transport and railways, water, electricity and gas supply, oil refineries, public hygiene and medical facilities, banking and finance, broadcasting, and communications. The new law extended this list to cover to petroleum supply and the Mint. Strikes can also be banned on grounds of public interest or impairment of the national economy.

On 24 April, 1996, the President of the country had announced a review of labour legislation in accordance with international labour standards. His announcement coincided with the visit of the secretary-general designate of the OECD, which South Korea had applied to join.

Subsequently, the Presidential Advisory Commission on the Reform of Labor-Management Relations was established on 9 May. The FKTU and the KCTU, through leaders of its industrial affiliates, were represented on it.

By the beginning of July it became clear that widely divergent views existed in the Commission. Employers were opposed to changing the law and wanted to bring in labour market flexibility and individual bargaining rights. Earlier in the year the government and employers had been advocating a "package solution" linking long-promised changes in the law to employers' demands for labour flexibility "in order to improve competitiveness".

It began to look unlikely that the trade union monopoly system would be abolished or that public servants and teachers would be given the right to organise. The government used delaying tactics, hiding behind the employers, and deadlock was reached.

In September, the OECD asked the government to submit a labour reform blueprint so that it could decide whether to admit the country as a member. While labour rights are not a condition of OECD membership, they are an important political consideration.

In October, South Korea was admitted to the OECD on the basis of a pledge to reform the law in line with international standards.

At the beginning of October the KCTU withdrew from the Presidential Advisory Commission because no meaningful progress was being made and it looked as if the law would be worsened.

The government dissolved the Commission on 9 November because it had failed to reach a compromise on key controversial issues. The President said that the government would draw up the new law itself.

The unions launched a nation-wide campaign for labour law reform in line with international standards. The KCTU president went on hunger strike. The KCTU held a rally on 10 November, and the FKTU on 24 November.

When the government revealed its proposals on 3 December, it was clear that the new law contained new violations of trade union rights.

On 4 December the KCTU held a ballot for a general strike. The president of FKTU went on hunger strike and the FKTU planned a warning strike on 16 December.

When the law was passed on 26 December, the KCTU and FKTU declared general strikes which were massively supported. After an interruption for the festive season the strikes were resumed. The authorities threatened arrests.

In 1996, labour law and national security laws were again strictly applied to the independent trade unions. KCTU leaders lived under constant threat of arrest and dismissal. Repression of industrial action by the police and state security forces, including riot police, continued. There was evidence that employers collaborated with the government.

On 26 January, Kwon Young-kil, the KCTU president, went on trial. He had been arrested on 23 November 1995, when the KCTU applied for registration, and was later charged with third party intervention in labour disputes because of speeches he had made in 1994 in relation to strikes.

On 1 February, Yang Kyu-hun, a KCTU first vice-president, was arrested on charges of third party intervention. He had been in hiding and his family had been under surveillance. The trial began on 29 March. He remained in prison throughout the year.

On 13 March, Kwon Young-kil was freed on bail at the time of an ICFTU mission to South Korea.

In March, the KCTU said that 40 trade unionists were in prison and more than 20 were in hiding. They included Dan Byung-ho, a KCTU vice-president and president of the Korean Federation of Metalworkers' Unions (KFMU) who had been sentenced to one years' imprisonment in November 1995 on charges of third party intervention. He was released after completing his sentence.

On 15 March, while protesting at the Ministry of Communications, 28 members of the KCTU's Committee for the reinstatement of dismissed unionists in the public sector were taken to the police station. Three of them, Park Pyo-kyun, Park Hyun-young, and Nam Jin-woo were arrested.

In March, four members of management attacked the vice-president of the union at the Keumgang Transport Company with an iron pipe after he had complained about unequal car parking at the company. The company had tried to destroy the union by forcing union members to leave it in return for various benefits, and had recruited new members on condition that they would not join the union.

A dispute at Hankook Synthetic Fiber began in April. On 4 May, riot police raided the factory because the union had gone on strike. Two union leaders, vice-president Lee Jin-kwon and auditor Seo Shang-june, set themselves on fire in protest and were critically injured. Strikers were sacked. On 13 May, an agreement was reached and sacked workers were reinstated.

Moon Young-man, the acting president of the KFMU, was arrested in May after being on the police wanted list.

On 19 June, trade union leaders Cho Myung-lae and Kim Seung-hyun, the secretary general and deputy-secretary general of the KFMU, were arrested on charges of third party intervention in an industrial dispute at the Korea Textile Company in Kumi, Kyongsangnam province. The union had gone on strike in April. Dozens of unionists were arrested during the strike and 24 were charged with "obstruction of company business".

The Korean Sanbon Workers' Union, which has a mostly women membership, decided to affiliate to the KCTU. The general manager of the Korean Sanbon Company, a subsidiary of the Japanese-owned Yamamoto Seisakusho Company, in the Masan export processing zone, threatened to close the plant unless the union left the KCTU. They refused and he closed the plant in April.

When the plant reopened, a new company union was established made up of the few male employees, under the direct control of the manager. The legitimate union refused to be intimidated. The manager led a brutal attack on them which left six unionists needed medical attention. The union's office equipment and many documents were destroyed.

The manager then dismissed six union leaders and forced 20 more to resign. The intervention of the Minister of Labour led to a meeting between the manager and some of the union leaders. It broke up after 15 minutes. The manager refused to meet union representatives again and led a more violent attack on the workers he had dismissed.

The sacked workers went on hunger strike. They were attacked again by a gang of thugs with tear gas. Several unionists were seriously injured. One woman had a broken jaw and another had to go to hospital. Yoon Jong-hyun, the union leader, was attacked by around 30 men who broke his shoulder blade.

Although the police arrested one of the assailants, they also arrested a KCTU branch leader in Masan & Chang Won City who had been trying to defend the women hunger-strikers. The dismissed workers began daily demonstrations outside the company.

In June, workers at Hanjin Heavy Industry in the shipbuilding sector went on strike after the management refused to negotiate with the union. They repeatedly invoked a compulsory arbitration clause in the company agreement. Arbitration hearings are conducted by the Labour Commission and the union said that he had always supported management.

The management repeatedly called on the police and security forces to intervene on its behalf. One union leader was imprisoned and four others were being hunted by the police. Eleven other employees were dismissed.

On 21 June, hundreds of armed police broke into the Hilton Hotel where 250 unionists were holding a sit-down strike. They arrested 67 of them. Earlier in the day the management had declared a lock-out after wage negotiations had reached stalemate.

The police were also involved in disputes in the automotive industry in July. Several trade union leaders of the Korea Automobile Workers' Federation were imprisoned: Kim Chang-han, president, Bok Jin-kil, first vice-president, Kim Ki-sung, vice-president of the Manda Machinery Trade Union, Lee Seung-ho, president, Kisan Trade Union and Lee Jae-kyung, general secretary of the AP trade union.

Arrest warrants were issued for Kwon Tae-joon, president, Park Sung-joon, first vice-president and Yang Do-young, Education Director of the AP trade union.

Other union leaders in prison were Jo Myung-rai, general secretary of the Kumi regional branch of the KFMU and Hang Yeo-peo, general secretary of the KCTU Machang Council as well as 25 union activists from the Korea Synthetic Fiber Company who had been given prison terms of three to five years.

On 2 November, the FKTU and its affiliate in the banking sector, the KFBU, held a rally in Seoul to protest at restructuring of the financial industry. Police fired tear gas after the rally to disperse union members who were peacefully marching in the streets. They arrested 173 unionists including six senior officials. Most of them were held for two days except 27 who were released later and fined in court.


There was some improvement in the overall industrial relations climate during the year – but there were no changes to Malaysia's labour legislation which places extensive restrictions on basic trade union rights.

The Trade Unions Act of 1959 and Industrial Relations Act of 1967, and subsequent amendments, restrict the right to organise and allow for wide-ranging interference in trade union affairs.

Under the Trade Unions Act, a union can only represent workers in a "particular establishment, trade, occupation, or industry, or within any similar trades, occupations, or industries". A national centre has to register under the Societies Act, rather than as a trade union under the Trade Unions Act.

The Act gives the Director General of Trade Unions far-reaching powers, including the right "to supervise, direct and control the trade unions". Every trade union is obliged to register and must record its date of establishment "for the purpose of prosecuting any trade union which fails to apply for registration".

The Director General can refuse to register a union if he is satisfied that a similar one already exists, and he can take as long as he likes to process an application for registration. He must give his approval before a trade union can affiliate internationally.

Under this legislation, 140,000 mainly women workers employed by multinational electronics companies, have been denied the right to organise a national union in the electronics industry since the early 1970s. They can only join in-house unions.

Workers forming in-house unions in the sector usually face management hostility, including threats of dismissal. Employers refuse to recognise unions and sponsor management-controlled organisations.

At the beginning of the year, the Minister of Manpower and Human Resources seemed ready to allow the formation of a national union of electronics workers, but this came to nothing.

Public service workers can only form unions on the basis of ministry, department, occupation or trade. The unions can join federations, but cannot bargain collectively or strike. A council system limits them to "giving views" on principles governing wages and other terms and conditions of service. Employees of statutory bodies are only permitted to join in-house unions, though these can affiliate to the public service federation.

The government and employers encourage the formation of in-house unions in both the public and private sectors.

The Minister of Human Resources has said that foreign workers are not allowed to join trade unions. However, there is nothing in the law about this. The law merely says that only Malaysian nationals can hold union office. Despite this, the authorities refused to allow the Electrical Industry Workers' Union to extend its collective agreement to cover migrant workers.

Unions cannot use their funds for political purposes. The law includes a comprehensive list of matters which can be termed as "political objects". The Minister of Human Resources can add to this list.

The right to strike is severely restricted. Strict strike ballot regulations stipulate that a secret ballot must be held containing a resolution which states "the nature of the acts which are to be done or omitted to be done in the course of such a strike". It has been reported that even where a union has conducted a secret ballot and received a mandate for a strike, the Director General of Trade Unions has disallowed the result on the basis of his dissatisfaction with the resolution. Furthermore, binding arbitration can be imposed by the Minister or the Director General. Two-thirds of the workforce must vote in favour to strike.

The Industrial Relations Act of 1967, amended in 1980, restricts the scope of collective bargaining, particularly in the public sector and in the "pioneer" enterprises. Specific areas relating to hiring and firing, transfer and promotion, dismissal and reinstatement and pensions, are excluded from collective bargaining and the definition of a dispute.

The government has said that it has formally approved the deletion of the provisions relating to "pioneer" status from the Industrial Relations Act and is taking measures to repeal the provisions.

The Minister of Human Resources can order the suspension, for a maximum six-month period, of any trade union which, in his opinion, "is, or is being used for purposes prejudicial to or incompatible with, the interests of, the security of, or public order in, Malaysia, or any part thereof".

Legislation such as the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Press and Publications Act, and the Sedition Act can be invoked to restrict the exercise of trade union rights. The Penal Code requires police permission for public meetings of more than five people.

During the year, an agreement between the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and the Malaysian Labour Organisation (MLO) led to the dissolution of the MLO and the affiliation of 18 MLO affiliates with the MTUC.

In April, it was announced that the trial of Zainal Rampak, MTUC president and general secretary of the Transport Workers' Union, and three others, had been set for 21-25 May as well as dates in June, July and August. Some additional charges had been filed against them at the end of 1995.

They had been arrested and charged with criminal breach of trust in October, 1994, in connection with an advance payment of retirement benefit in 1988 to the then general secretary of the TWU, Dr. V. David. The payment had been made in line with the union's rules and approved by its governing bodies. The union's financial returns had also been cleared by the Registrar of Trade Unions.

The charges carried jail sentences of between two and 20 years. Conviction would also have disqualified the four from holding executive positions in unions.

The charges were widely believed to have been linked to their criticism of Malaysia's long-standing ban on the formation of a national union for workers in the electronics industry, and their support for a social clause in multilateral trade agreements.

In October, the state withdrew the charges and the four trade unionists were unconditionally discharged. Their passports were returned and bail monies were redeemed.

A six-year legal battle ended on 13 August when the Court of Appeal ordered the US-Harris Group of Companies to reinstate 21 members of the Harris Solid State Workers Union dismissed in 1990 when the company restructured its subsidiary to get rid of the union. The sacked workers included the union's president and entire executive committee. The company had wound up the activities of the Harris Solid State Company and transferred them to the unorganised Harris Advanced Technology Sdn.Bhd.


The Nepal National Teachers' Association (NNTA) held sit-ins at the end of 1995 and in early 1996 over the government's refusal to discuss its demands.

The government has been refusing to talk to the union since November, 1993. During these three years, it has sacked and replaced almost 7,000 temporary teachers.

Police violently attacked one sit-in, arresting and beating up teachers, including the NNTA president and general secretary. Many were badly wounded. Others were jailed on false charges and denied access to lawyers and families.

The union has accused the state of terrorising teachers, and says some of them have had to go into hiding. The authorities alleged that they were communists.

On 16 June, the NNTA said that Kali Bahadur Basnet, an NNTA committee member in the Jajarkot district, had been shot dead by the police.

Police using tear gas attacked a rally of thousands of teachers from all over the country who had marched to the capital city, Kathmandu, on 4 July. Hundreds were injured by a police lathi charge and more than 70 were arrested.

Many teachers were still in prison at the end of August. The government ignored court rulings ordering their release on bail.

A 1992 law bans teachers from engaging in political activity, joining political parties or holding political office. The ban includes acting as an agent for political candidates or campaigning for a political party


Workers and trade unions continued to be hard hit by labour market deregulation, the main instrument of which was the 1991 Employment Contracts Act which dismantled the existing system of collective agreements and awards.

The Act replaces the collective bargaining process with individual employment contracts. It states that employment relationships should be established through legally-enforceable contracts between individual workers and their employers, unless otherwise decided.

If workers wish to be covered by a collectively-bargained contract, they must say so explicitly and can choose to be represented by a bargaining agent, which may or may not be a trade union, in negotiations. The employer must recognise the bargaining agent, but there is no corresponding obligation to bargain.

After the Act came into force, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) reported that workers had been pressurised into signing individual contracts introduced unilaterally by employers – including where the workers concerned had authorised a union to negotiate for them.

The Employment Contracts Act halved the number of workers covered by collective contracts, and real wages fell. The impact was worst in small-scale workplaces.

The right to strike was also limited by the Act, most importantly by the ban on strikes aimed at concluding multi-company collective agreements. This gave legal backing to employer-imposed bargaining at enterprise level only.

The ILO ruled in 1994 that the Employment Contracts Act was incompatible with freedom of association, and the promotion and encouragement of collective bargaining. It recommended that the Act be rewritten after tripartite discussions to ensure its compatibility with ILO principles. It also recommended that strikes over multi-employer collective agreements should be legalised.

Despite promises made to the social partners, the New Zealand government did nothing to carry out the ILO's recommendations.

The NZCTU stepped up its campaign against the Act in the run-up to the 1996 general election. Opinion polls showed that a majority of voters opposed the Act. However, the coalition government formed in December, 1996, announced that it intended to review New Zealand's Employment Court as well as laws governing minimum employment conditions, thus further undermining legal protection for workers.


There were no changes to Pakistan's restrictive labour laws in 1996 although a tripartite Task Force on Labour Policy had been set-up by the prime minister in 1993. The Task Force, which finalised its recommendations in 1994, had been established because of widespread national and international criticism of Pakistan's labour legislation.

Public servants, teachers, hospital workers, workers in agriculture, railway employees, workers at the Pakistan Television Corporation and the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, numerous defence-related establishments, and forestry workers, cannot form or join unions.

Workers in EPZs cannot form unions. A 1980 law allows the government to exempt employers in any zone from any law, and a 1982 law bans strikes in the zones. Special Industrial Zones are excluded from the labour law under the "Foreign Investors' Scheme". The 1992 Finance Act exempts industries that export more than 70 per cent of their products from all labour legislation.

Under some circumstances, workers in these companies and in the zones can form associations. But they have either limited collective bargaining rights or none at all, and they cannot strike or join federations.

Collective bargaining rights are also denied or severely limited and strikes banned in banks and financial institutions, and other establishments covered by the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) of 1952. The government can declare any service to be a public service utility and put it under ESMA restrictions, which means that workers can be forbidden to quit their jobs, and sacked workers cannot go to court.

A wide range of government services and state enterprises have been covered by the ESMA including electricity, gas, oil and water supply; public sanitation; hospital and ambulances services; fire-fighting; post and telecommunications; the state airline; ports; and security services. The government said that eight services were still under ESMA restrictions in 1996.

In 1994, the authorities classified most railway lines as Ministry of Defence lines and banned unions at a time when they were opposing the privatisation of Pakistan Railways. This followed a 1993 Lahore court decision declaring all major railway lines to be "defence lines".

In September, 1996, the Railway Board tried to bar other employees from joining unions and threatened them with disciplinary action if they joined.

The definition of "worker" in the law excludes supervisory and managerial staff and does not allow them to join unions. Employers have given workers artificial promotions to weaken or destroy union organisation in sectors such as the steel industry, the Railways, and the banking and financial sector.

The authorities have wide powers to interfere into internal union affairs, and unions have to go through long and cumbersome procedures before they can call a strike. The result of these is that most strikes are illegal. They are broken up by the police and used by employers as justifications for lay-offs. The government can halt any strike which has continued for 30 days.

Workers are not sufficiently protected under the law against dismissal for union activities.

Unions say that labour laws are not effectively implemented and that certain politicians, local authorities and the business community collaborate to repress workers' rights. Intimidation and violence are used to prevent workers from organising.

The process of union registration and appeal can take many years if an employer is against the formation of a union. During that time, union founders are harassed and victimised. Employers can involve unions in costly and prolonged litigation. Labour courts are often corrupt and inefficient.

Employers evade labour laws by registering a number of small businesses rather than a larger one, even where workers are employed on the same premises. They also employ workers on successive temporary contracts.

Employer hostility to workers attempting to form unions in EPZs and special industrial zones is particularly vicious. At the Hattar and Gadoon Amazi industrial estates, factory security guards are equipped with assault rifles. Most union organising efforts have been crushed and dismissed unionists are blacklisted. Working conditions and health and safety conditions are extremely bad.

The Pakistani subsidiary of the South Korean multinational, Daewoo, continued its four-year campaign of repression against the APFOL-affiliated Awami Labour Union. The union, representing workers at the Daewoo Motorway Project linking Islamabad to Lahore, applied for legal registration in 1992.

Since then, hundreds of workers have been beaten and tortured for supporting the union. Hundreds have been illegally detained by the local authorities and police who colluded with the company, and over a thousand union members have lost their jobs.

The labour courts have twice ordered the union to be registered, after protracted delays, but the Registrar of Trade Unions and Daewoo abused the legal system to prevent registration.

In 1995, the Minister of Labour promised an ICFTU delegation that the union would be registered in two weeks. This did not happen.

A hearing of the case in the Punjab labour appeal court, which had kept the union's registration pending for three years, scheduled for 11 January 1996, was postponed. It was subsequently postponed on many more occasions, mainly because company representatives did not show up. Daewoo also submitted several new points to amend their previous version of the case.

Mistreatment of workers persisted. On 1 January, a company official beat a worker, Banaras, with an iron rod because he had not understood an order which the Korean official had given in English. The worker was unconscious for two days. He received no compensation from the company.

On 14 April, the Punjab labour appeal court ordered the registration of the Awami Labour Union. The union was granted a registration certificate two days later but feared that the company would try and create a company union before it obtained a bargaining certificate.

On 18 April, Daewoo got an injunction from the Pakistan National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC), suspending the registration certificate. This directed the Punjab registrar not to register the union and prevented union officials from conducting any union activities.

In an attempt to intimidate the union, and cripple it financially, Daewoo prosecuted workers who had joined the union or taken part in union activities after the company obtained the injunction. Although the NIRC ruled in August that these were illegal and constituted an unfair labour practice, there had been no change by the end of the year.

An EPZ Authority staff union for head office workers was registered and certified for collective bargaining in Karachi at the end of 1995. The EPZ Authority subsequently went to the Sindh High Court to cancel the union's registration and collective bargaining status. In May, there were reports that the EPZ Authority management was contemplating moving the head office into the zones so that EPZ laws would ban the union. The same thing had happened in 1992.

On 6 June, around 3,000 police attacked striking workers at Pak China Fertiliser Limited in Haripur. They were striking because the management had broken an agreement on reduction of the workforce.

Many of the workers were beaten. Forty-five of them, including the general secretary of the union, Haji Hakan Khan, and the union president, Lala Manzur, were arrested and taken to police cells in various towns. They were put in handcuffs and chains. The arrests were made under the Maintenance of Public Order Act which allows three months detention without trial.

The police remained in the factory with 80 of the employer's hired thugs who terrorised workers' families in their nearby living quarters.

The detainees were eventually released on bail on 9 June. The government was reported to have said that the strikes were political. The company applied and obtained the suspension of the union's registration on the grounds that the company supplies urea to the defence industry. The union had been registered for ten years.

At a meeting on 13 September, the company said that if the union leaders would accept a golden handshake and leave, it would honour its agreement on the reduction of the workforce. Otherwise, it said, it would close down for as long as necessary.


Trade unions and other groups succeeded in getting the government to shelve anti-terrorist and anti-crime bills introduced at the beginning of the year that could have threatened trade union rights. Unions feared the bills could have been used to ban strikes and demonstrations, particularly in the transport sector. Even holding a union meeting might have become an illegal act.

Labour law in the Philippines is already restrictive. The Secretary of Labour can impose compulsory arbitration and order strikers back to work if he or she thinks strikes are against the national interest.

The government said that it had drawn up a bill to limit this power to strikes in essential services - but the bill was reported to contain a very broad definition of essential services. It also gave the president unlimited powers to intervene in strikes.

Union officials can be dismissed and imprisoned for a maximum of three years for taking part in illegal strikes.

Public sector workers in effect have no collective bargaining rights and cannot strike. The government said that a bill giving government workers the right to strike in certain circumstances was pending in congress.

A union can only be registered if it represents at least 20 per cent of workers in a bargaining unit. The law requires an excessively high number of unions before a federation or national centre can be formed. Non-nationals cannot form or join unions unless a reciprocal agreement exists with their country of origin.

Union officials have to be employed in the enterprise whose workers they represent.

A vice-president of the TUCP union centre and member of parliament resubmitted a draft law in parliament at the beginning of the year to criminalise labour-only contracting through employment agencies. The bill had failed to pass its third reading in 1995. The contracting system means employers cannot be held responsible for the working conditions or union rights of contract workers.

Organising in the export processing zones and the growing number of special zones and regional industrial centres remained difficult and dangerous.

Over 200,000 people work in the zones. The labour law applies there but in practice "no union, no strike" policies exist and are enforced by local government officials, zone administrators, and employers.

Union-busting in the zones usually takes the form of intimidation of the workforce as well as threats of dismissal and factory closures. Companies often leave the zones rather than allow unions. Trade union leaders and organisers are dismissed and discriminated against, and blacklisted by other companies. Workers are often prevented from having contacts with each other.

The Department of Labour has proved unwilling or unable to enforce the law in the zones. Only in the Bataan EPZ had some organising succeeded.

Three certification elections took place in 1996 in the Cavite free trade zone, despite its "no union no strike" policy, and two collective agreements were signed for the first time ever. The zone employs some 35,000 workers of which 75 per cent are young women, in mainly Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and German factories. They are obliged to sign a document saying that the employer can dismiss them if they get married. Mass dismissals of workers joining unions, forced overtime, and poor working conditions are common. In the past few years, union organisers have gone missing or been found dead.

There are no unions in the Mactan EPZ, where around 21,000 workers are employed. Workers are monitored and cannot meet in groups. Organisers cannot get in the zone.

In the Subic Bay special EPZ, the chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and zone administrator, declared the zone "union-free". He established a "Labor Centre" purportedly to handle labour disputes and assist workers with their entitlements. Workers said that the centre existed to promote company unions. Guards stopped inspectors from the Department of Labour from undertaking independent factory inspections.

Union certification elections were finally held on 24-25 April, 1996, at the Japanese-owned Mitsumi company in the Danao City free trade zone in Cebu. The management had done everything in its power to prevent elections taking place throughout 1995. The zone had been declared "strike- and union-free" by the Danao City mayor and other local government officials.

On election day, representatives of the ALU-TUCP union, which had organised the Mitsumi company, were searched at the company gates. Although the regional representative of the Labour Department was responsible for conducting the elections, company management took control of the proceedings.

More than 9,000 workers were qualified to vote, but only a few hundred took part on each day of voting. The company had tried to prevent the election by saying that the workers could not go and vote because they were too busy. Yet when the elections were going ahead, they gave workers the two days off.

On the second day of voting, around one hundred management-sponsored thugs intimidated and frightened away workers queuing at the company gate to vote.

The union decided to suspend the elections and left the company premises. Company thugs threatened them as they left and tried to spike the tyres of union vehicles.

The company and the representative from the Labour Department continued to hold the elections. Workers chosen by management were able to vote and the ballot resulted in a victory for the "no union" position.

Local media heavily criticised officials of the Department of Labour for their improper handling of the election.


The law continues to limit the scope of matters which are open to collective bargaining. The Industrial Arbitration Court can refuse to register a collective agreement which is not considered to be in the public interest, although there are no reports that this has taken place.

In new enterprises, collective agreements cannot provide for conditions which are better than the legal minimum specified in the Employment Act. The National Trade Union Congress continued to ask the government to amend this requirement which it said was outdated. In practice, exemptions have always been granted, and collective agreements in new enterprises have exceeded the legal minimum.


Current law does not oblige employers to recognise unions for the purpose of collective bargaining. Laws protecting workers from anti-union discrimination are ineffectively enforced.

The president of the country can designate any industry as an essential service and ban strikes. Public servants do not have the right to strike, although some sectors do go on strike.

The government adopted a National Workers Charter in 1995 after tripartite discussions. The Charter strengthens trade union rights and guarantees and protects the rights to organise and bargain collectively.

But no new laws were introduced, nor existing ones amended, to implement it in 1996.

Employers were against many provisions of the Charter. In particular they disliked the provision compelling them to recognise trade unions because it would mean that they would be forced to recognise unions in the EPZs.

The labour law applies in the EPZs which employ around 95,000 mainly women workers, but it is not enforced. There are few or no unions in the tightly-guarded zones, and union organisers are kept out.

Workers who try to form unions are sacked and banned from the zones. Employers hire security guards to monitor workers and there are reports that private paramilitary security forces operate. The police prevent workers from gathering in and around the zones.

Wages and working conditions in the zones are set by the government's Board of Investments (BOI). The BOI also chairs meetings of joint councils of workers and employers, which are compulsory. At the request of employers, BOI officials intervene in industrial disputes, and often collude with the police if a strike takes place.

On 30 April, President Kumaratunga used Emergency Regulations to ban all public processions on 1 May for "security" reasons, although the police had already cancelled permits for marches and news broadcasts had announced the ban on 29 April.

Although some unions were able to go ahead with May Day rallies, others were stopped by riot police.

On 30 May, the police arrested more than 20 union leaders on the second day of a strike in the electricity industry which cut water and energy. The union was protesting against the privatisation of a branch of the Ceylon Electricity Board.

The prime minister said on 31 May that "short of killing people" the government would do what was necessary to force them back to work.

After three days, the strike was banned under the extended State of Emergency. The strikers were ordered back to work.


Civil servants, teachers and workers in the defence industry are not allowed to form trade unions, although a 1995 court decision ruled that the right to organise was protected by Taiwan's constitution.

In October, the government revealed a draft bill to amend the Labour Union Act, which, it said, would relax some of the restrictions on trade unions by allowing civil servants and teachers to form unions, as well as permitting the establishment of multi-enterprise unions. The bill was expected to be submitted to parliament before the end of the year.

Only one national trade union federation is allowed. The government turned down an application to establish a second federation in 1994. The law does not permit more than one trade union in any given geographical area.

Labour law requires union rules and constitutions to be submitted to the authorities for review. Unions can be dissolved by the authorities if they do not meet certification requirements or if their activities disturb public order.

There are many restrictions on the right to strike which make it difficult to hold a legal strike. The authorities can impose mediation or arbitration during which workers cannot strike.

Protection against anti-union discrimination is inadequate as there is no provision in the law to punish violators.


The 1991 State Employee Relations Act, which had abolished unions in the state sector, remained in force.

The act had replaced the unions by State Enterprise Employees' Associations on the basis of one per sector. This cut union membership by 55 per cent, and meant that 200,000 workers could no longer belong to trade unions.

The associations cannot bargain collectively or strike, and have a limited advisory role. They are prohibited from forming national federations or joining existing trade union centres of private sector unions. A high minimum number of workers is required to form an association. The law provided for a transfer of trade union assets to the associations.

In April 1996, a "compromise" State Enterprise Labour Relations bill which would have partially restored trade union rights to state and public sector workers passed its second and third readings in the lower house of parliament.

This followed several militant protests in the preceding months, culminating in a mass protest on 9 April, when thousands of Thai workers demonstrated against anti-union laws and low wages.

But in August, the appointed upper house, the senate, which is still heavily influenced by the military, passed a heavily amended version of the bill which in many ways restricted the rights of state enterprise workers even further than the 1991 Act.

It banned them from going on strike or holding the extraordinary meetings they used to hold instead of strikes. Nor did it permit them to affiliate with private sector unions or join national centres which included private sector unions. The penalty for breaking these provisions was a baht 60,000 fine or three months in prison.

At the beginning of September, the amended bill was rejected by the lower house of parliament. A committee was formed to reconcile the differences between the two versions and was expected to take around six months to complete its work..

A no-confidence vote during the same month led to the dissolution of the government. The new government elected in November resubmitted the bill to parliament in December and it passed its first reading in the lower house.

In the private sector, although workers have the right to organise, Decree No. 54 which was also brought in by the military government in 1991, obliges private sector unions to register their advisers with the state. The Decree says a union can have two advisers who must be licensed by the government every two years. The government can refuse a licence, and anyone who performs advisory duties without a licence could face a maximum penalty of one year's imprisonment. The Decree also sets out strict strike ballot requirements.

While the law protects workers against acts of anti-union discrimination, there is no protection for union "promoters", ten of whom are required to set up a union, before it is legally registered. In practice, trade unionists in private enterprises can be discriminated against and fired. Employers can employ new workers to replace strikers.

The Minister of Labour can issue an order to prevent a strike, or to order strikers to return to work. The law gives a broad definition of "essential services" in which strikes are prohibited.

Under the 1975 Labour Relations Act, every union official must be a full-time employee at the factory where he or she has been elected, which means unions cannot employ full-time elected officials.

The act bans civil servants from joining unions.

In January, the trade union at Piyavat Rubber Industry Co. Ltd. which produced sports shoes under the brand names Adidas, Reebok and Converse, demanded that management should comply with the employment law. For over two years, the women workers had been victims of unfair dismissal and union-busting tactics by the management who were trying to cut staff illegally.

The factory owner responded by shifting production to its other factory, Wongpaithoon Footwear Co. Ltd. Workers were asked to volunteer to go to the new factory, and around 1,800 were moved. All the members of the trade union committee volunteered but were not accepted. Seven hundred and sixty active trade unionists were not transferred and remained at the Piyavat factory.

On 8 March, the 760 workers were dismissed without notice or compensation and the factory was closed. The company later agreed to pay some compensation, but it was well below the legal requirements.

In May, Thai Airways threatened to sack the leaders of the Thai Airways State Enterprise Employees' Association. The association had been pressing for collective bargaining over salaries, the reinstatement of two employees who had exposed corruption in the airline, and an end to sexual discrimination. The sackings were linked to a court action brought by the company which charged the association's leaders with "telling public lies about the company's salary scale". There were no reports that the company had pursued its threat.

On 13 September, the multinational textile group, Eden, with headquarters in London and Paris, closed down its Bangkok factory and sacked 345 union members who had gone on strike over payment of salary arrears and to protest against child labour. An agreement was reached over compensation in November, but when the workers turned up to collect it they found that the factory was empty and the remaining 350 workers had been sacked. In December, the workers went to protest outside the Labour Ministry. Many of them became homeless. The company opened a new factory in Bangladesh.

Early in the year, the Federation of Thai Industries proposed the creation of a special economic zone, possibly near the Burmese and Cambodian borders, staffed with foreign labour, and having no requirement to pay the minimum wage.


Turkish governments since 1991 have not kept promises to reform labour laws and the 1982 constitution. These date from the military dictatorship and restrict basic trade union rights.

Public sector workers who are designated as public servants, which includes many manual workers, a large section of municipal workers, as well as teachers, nurses, police, military, and contract personnel, are not allowed to join unions. They cannot bargain collectively or strike.

The minor constitutional amendments made in 1995 did not address the right of public servants to organise. The amendments only referred to "trade unions and higher level organisations that shall be permitted by a law, to be established by public servants". No enabling law had been passed by the end of 1996.

While the changes would allow public servants' unions to bargain collectively, the negotiations would have no binding effect, and would depend on "the discretion of the Council of Ministers". All restrictions and prohibitions on the right to strike remained.

In practice, unofficial public servants unions have been formed since 1990, after overcoming obstacles from the authorities. Around 400,000 workers are organised in three national organisations. A number of collective agreements have been signed with municipal authorities, although many of them have not been honoured. A number of court rulings have said that public servants can bargain collectively.

In 1995, Tum Haber-Sen, a public sector post and telecommunications union, was dissolved by court order after the union had resisted privatisation. The workers began to set up a new union.

The main positive step for unions in the 1995 constitutional amendments was the lifting of the ban on unions' political activities and their having relations with political parties.

Although the law provides for fines to be levied against employers for anti-union discrimination, they are reported to be too low to act as a deterrent, and the burden of proof lies with the victim. There is no provision for the reinstatement of dismissed trade unionists, and the general lack of job security also undermines legal protection.

To be recognised as a bargaining agent, a union must represent 50 per cent plus one employees in a workplace, and 10 per cent of all employees in the sector. There have been reports that the authorities have manipulated membership figures to prevent unions acquiring bargaining rights, or to remove their rights by pretending there were irregularities.

Lengthy procedures have to be followed before a strike. The right to strike is denied in a wide range of sectors including education; banking; transport; sanitation services; health institutions; exploration, production, refining and distribution of water, gas, electricity, coal, natural gas and petroleum.

Turkey's constitution allows the government to halt strikes for up to 60 days for reasons of national security or public health and safety and to impose binding arbitration at the end of the period. The ILO has criticised the government for applying the law too broadly.

The Free Trade Zone Act bans strikes in Turkey's two EPZs for ten years following the setting up of a zone, and imposes binding arbitration.

Some amendments were made to the Trade Union Act in 1995. These ended the need for prior authorisation before unions can affiliate internationally, as well as some aspects of state interference into internal union affairs. However, the laws remain overly prescriptive and regulatory about internal union rules and constitutions.

In the past, trade unionists have been prosecuted under Article 8 of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law which provides for severe penalties against any written or spoken statement judged to be prejudicial to the integrity of the Turkish state.

Unions have said that since the introduction of privatisation in 1991 and Turkey's 1994 agreement with the IMF, new and precarious forms of employment, including sub-contracting, have become prevalent and job insecurity has increased dramatically. Privatisation undermined the position of unions in enterprises. Delays in wage payments and non-payment by employers of social security contributions, also became widespread.

Unions said that employers' attitudes hardened considerably and it became clear that they were trying to break trade unionism in the private sector.

The authorities and the security forces intervened on the side of employers during union organising campaigns and strikes. The police and hired thugs violently attacked workers. Trade unionists were sacked with the complicity of local authorities. Courts failed to provide protection against anti-union discrimination.

The Turk-Is-affiliated union in the transport sector, Tumtis, said that three Tumtis officials were sacked from the Sivas Surat warehouse at the Topkapi site in Istanbul on 30 January after their registration as union members. The workers protested outside the warehouse. They were harassed and eventually arrested, together with several Tumtis officials. They were released the next day after being beaten in detention and accused of being communists, and were cleared of any offence. No sanctions were taken against the employer.

Tumtis was involved in another dispute at the Inter-City Coach Terminal in Ankara (ASTI). By the beginning of December, the dispute had been going on for seven months. On 2 December, police attacked strikers, injuring 79 of them. Journalists were removed to stop them from seeing the attack. At least eight Tumtis officials were arrested.

The province of Ankara filed a law suit against the Ankara branch of the education union, Egitim-Sen, to deregister the union. In early March, 34 union members were arrested and severely injured by police when they began a sit-in strike in Ankara to protest at the province's action.

On 4 April, a gang of eight thugs armed with revolvers threatened the protesting union members. The police arrived and detained the thugs, but when two union leaders, Sukru Gunsiki and Huseyin Seyrek, went to the police station to submit an official report about the incident, they were arrested and held overnight. The police told their lawyer he was wasting his time and threatened to disband the union.

A May Day demonstration in Istanbul ended in clashes between police and demonstrators. After a group of workers had refused to be searched by the police, the police opened fire, killing three of them and injuring others.

On 8 June in Istanbul, police arrested 1,500 workers during a demonstration organised by the newly-established public sector confederation, KESK. Several hundred of them were detained for several days.

On 17 July, Turk-Is, DISK and Hak-Is launched a boycott of oil multinationals Shell, Mobil and BP. The union in the industry, Petrol-Is, said the companies were increasingly contracting out work which had been done by full-time employees in the past. Under the law, workers employed on contracts are no longer covered by collective agreements and cannot be union members, but are still counted as part of the overall workforce.

Over the last three years, the companies have transferred nearly half of their workforce onto contracts. The union in the industry can no longer meet the numeric requirements for collective bargaining.

The companies put pressure on the remaining "core" personnel to leave the union, offering immediate pay rises to renounce union membership. Workers who left the union received cash handouts as well.

Petrol-Is made several attempts to negotiate with the companies in good faith but the talks led nowhere.

Atilay Aycin, president of the civil aviation union, Hava-Is, was denied an airport security pass in October, so that he could no longer communicate with union members in their workplace.

In the city of Diyarbakir, 25 union branch leaders and officials were arrested between July and November. The authorities tried to link them to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK. Under emergency legislation, they can be held for 30 days without being charged and without access to a lawyer. Torture in detention is routine, especially during the 30-day period. The detained unionists said they were forced to sign documents blindfolded and had no idea what they were signing.

Those arrested included six trade union officials who were held incommunicado at police headquarters after being held in raids during October; Hasan Kacan, Yusuf Akgun and Gulsen Aydemir of the education union, Egitim-Sen; Davut Balikci of the finance union, Maliye-Sen and the public service confederation, KESK; Halil Cabir Karacadagli of Tes-is; and Halil Topalan of the roadworkers' union, Yol-Is.

They were released with four other trade unionists without charge on 4 November after appearing in the state security court.

Hasan Kacan was rearrested ten minutes after he had been freed, in connection with an incident that had taken place several years previously in his home town, which he had left over seven years ago.

The leader of the municipal workers' union in Diyarbakir, Vesir Perisan, was arrested at home on 2 July and charged under the 1991 Anti-Terror Act. A police informer alleged that the PKK had helped him to be elected as union leader - although he had been the only candidate. He denied knowledge of the informer as well as any contact and sympathy for the PKK. He said he opposed all violence.

His lawyers said that the security forces had no evidence to sustain their case. The authorities held security court hearings at which they said that the witness for the prosecution had not appeared. They were then able to postpone the trial and extend the detention. There were many other legal irregularities.

On 12 January, 1996, Osman Kundes, the president of the Batman municipal workers' union, Belediye-Is, in south-east Turkey, and seven others were freed after being abducted on 6 February, 1995. It was reported that a secret organisation, linked to the security forces, was behind the abductions.


There are no independent trade unions in Uzbekistan. Trade union rights have not improved much since the Soviet era.

The authorities routinely interfere in the affairs of the only union centre, the TUFU, despite provisions in the 1992 constitution and the 1992 trade union law guaranteeing union independence.

Representatives of national and local government, or of employers, sit on union executive committees at all levels and exercise substantial decision-making power.

Candidates for union leadership are vetted by the government department dealing with their sector.


There are no independent trade unions in Vietnam. The single national centre, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), is affiliated to the ruling party.

Vietnam's labour law, which came into force in January, 1995, gave VGCL branches six months to establish unions in all enterprises which did not have them. The VGCL was obliged to establish unions in new enterprises within the same period. However, most private enterprises do not have trade unions.

The local branch of the VGCL has to approve any union formed by workers themselves and the union must become part of the VGCL structure.

The law says that the scope of activities of unions is to be determined by the government in conjunction with the VGCL.

Although there is no legal right to collective bargaining, there are reports that some bargaining does take place in a small minority of foreign-owned private enterprises.

The new law gave workers restricted strike rights. They can go on strike after completing several stages of lengthy dispute-solving procedures and voting by secret ballot. Strikes had previously been forbidden, although the growth of the private sector in recent years had led to tolerance of peaceful strikes at foreign-owned factories. Many of these were illegal wildcat strikes, as workers often had little or no knowledge of the procedures involved.

Strikes are banned in enterprises which, according to the government, serve the public and are important to the national economy or to security and defence. A strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety can be suspended by the prime minister.

On 7 September, it was reported that the government had issued a legal order banning the right to strike in various "key sectors" which included: water; electricity; telecommunications; public transport; air and sea transport; banks; national defence and security.

Despite the legal restrictions, there was again an increase in labour unrest and signs of independent worker militancy. There were complaints that the government did not enforce the provisions of the labour law which protected workers.

Wildcat strikes increased, particularly at enterprises with foreign-investment in Ho Chi Minh City. Unofficial figures for 1995 said that there had been at least 200 wildcat strikes, all of which had been organised outside VGCL structures.

Most strikes took place over late and unpaid wages, claims for wage increases, breaking of contracts, poor working conditions or abuse of workers.

South Korean employers were again noted for verbal and physical abuse of their workforces. This featured less in the local media because Ministry of Labour officials were ordered not to talk to the press about South Korean factories.

At the Korean-owned Reeyong factory near Ho Chi Minh City, there were three strikes in the first few months of the year. In February, the workers barricaded themselves in the factory when the owner tried to force them to work overtime on the eve of the Vietnamese New Year. The VGCL and the Ministry of Labour intervened to try and get everyone back to work.

There were reports that one foreign employer had punished workers by hanging them in the sun for several hours. Another employer, Kieu Quan Bao, the director of the Hai Phong Electricity Bureau, used a gun to threaten workers. One employer, Mrs. Jang Mi Back, was sentenced to three months imprisonment for beating workers.

Globalization and Workers' Rights


International Labour Office
Bureau for Workers' Activities
CH-1211 Geneva 22
Fax: +41 22 799 6570
ACTRAV Homepage: