Education International
Education International

Myanmar: teachers work from the ground up to strengthen union

published 29 September 2016 updated 3 October 2016

With a young democracy as its backdrop, the Myanmar Teachers Federation continues to build its ranks across the country with the help of Education International and its affiliates’ experience one year after its creation.

Starting a teachers union from scratch is no easy undertaking. Couple that with a still young democracy and the challenges may seem daunting. Although this is the reality facing the Myanmar Teachers Federation (MTF) a year after its founding congress, its leaders are pushing ahead undeterred.

After recruiting a base of 5,000 members, who represent roughly 3-4 percent of the nation’s teachers, the MTF is working closely with the Education International (EI) Consortium for Myanmar to develop an Action Plan to reach the next stage. Consortium partners, the Australian Education Union (AEU), the Japan Teachers' Union (JTU), Utdanningsforbundet Norway (UEN), Lararforbundet Sweden and the Danish Union of Teachers (DLF) contributed to various projects over the past year.

With the EI Asia Pacific Regional Committee Meeting taking place in Yangon from the 27-28 of September, The Committee had the opportunity to hear from Dr Sai Khaing Myo Tun, the president of the MTF, on the latest updates surrounding the union’s work to amend a contentious National Education Law.

Regarded as a highly-centralised law containing provisions which highlight the responsibilities of teachers rather than their rights, the MTF has been invited by the new government, led by Aung Syu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Party, to participate in open dialogue with the Ministry of Education. The talks come after the MTF, together with student activists, held a number of demonstrations calling for amendments to the Law.

Teachers get organised

Kaing Zhar of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM) confirmed that it has assigned a dedicated organiser for teachers following an overview of the organisation’s activities. The CTUM Successfully formed unions at the basic and township levels with the vision of registering the teachers unions organised as Education Federation of Myanmar (EFM) by the end of 2016.

However, with organising efforts beginning to bear fruit, challenges remain. Both the MTF and the CTUM-EFM are facing similar hurdles in organising, particularly in reaching the minimum requirement of 30 teachers to form a Basic Labour Organisation (BLO) in schools. In addition, the lack of experience of labour officials in handling the registration process and labour issues exacerbates the already trying process. This is why EI and the Consortium partners are committed to continuing work, including proposed full-pledged Development Cooperation (DC) projects for both organisations to be developed in early 2017.

The Regional Committee meeting was attended by EI president Susan Hopgood and general secretary Fred van Leeuwen.