Trade Unions - Overview


While legislation exists in the majority of the Mekong countries permitting the formation and activities of trade unions, the level of independence and freedom varies greatly between countries.

In Burma, labour unions, farmer unions and student unions were banned under the rule of General Ne Win, who seized state power in 1962. Furthermore, organisations that ‘attempt, insti gate, incite, abet or commit acts that may in any way disrupt law and order, peace and tranquility, or safe and secure communications’; or ‘disrupt the regularity of state machinery’ have been also banned. Myanmar’s Parliament passed the new Labour Organisation Law on 11 October 2011. The new law would allow workers to form trade unions with a minimum of 30 workers being members. However, as of today, no regulations on how to use this law have been passed, and thus the new law cannot be used in practice to register trade unions.

In Cambodia it is illegal for an employer to interfere with a trade union. Additionally, employers in Cambodia are forbidden from taking into consideration union affiliation or participation in union activities when making decisions concerning recruitment, management and assignment of work, promotion, remuneration and granting of benefits, disciplinary measures and dismissal.

In China, the State has to protect the legal rights and interests of trade unions. Reciprocally, Chinese trade unions have to represent and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of labourers, and independently conduct their activities in accordance with the law. Chinese labour legislation also gives trade unions many responsibilities including mobilising workers to care for the State and observe labour disciplines, investigating problems in relation to infringements of the legal rights and interests of workers, assisting and providing guidance to workers signing labour contracts, representing workers in signing collective contracts, participating in mediation workshops, and putting forward views and intervening in regards to Occupational Health and Safety issues.

There is no protection for independent trade unions in Lao PDR, since labour unions must be affiliated with the government. Unions have the right to sign collective employment contracts but there is no compulsion on the part of the employer to bargain. Laotian labour legislation defines the role of the union as promoting mediation and resolution, rather than the defence and furtherance of the rights and entitlements of workers.

Labour unions in Thailand can strike on behalf of its members without legal repercussion, can make demands, conduct negotiations and enter into agreements regarding the activities of its members, can manage and carry out activities for the benefi t of its members, can provide advice and welfare services and may collect membership fees for membership of the union. Employers are prohibited from interfering with trade unions in Thailand or from and from firing an employee because of their membership of the union.

According to Vietnamese labour legislation, employees have the right to form, join, or participate in union activities, however in reality workers are not free to organise or join unions of their choosing, and unions must operate under the Communist Party. Nevertheless, labour laws stipulate that employers must not interfere with the establishment and activities of the trade union, and that employees must not be prejudiced because of their membership or participation in a trade union.

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