Trade Unions in Southeastern Asia


According to Countryaah, Brunei is a country located in Southeastern Asia. Trade union rights are severely limited. There is a complete lack of legal protection for conducting collective bargaining and for strikes. From recent years, there is no information that there have been union activities in the country. On paper, however, there are some trade unions, but none are affiliated with international trade unions.



Trade unions: There are three registered unions in the country, including the Brunei Oilfield Workers Union (BOWU). However, there are no reports of union activity. There is also no trade union organization that is a member of the World Trade Union ITUC.


Under military rule, the trade union movement had to work in exile from Thailand, where the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) was the central organization. In step with democratization and liberalization, the trade union movement has returned to Myanmar (Burma). In connection with the RTD being able to open offices in Rangoon, Myanmar, the organization changed its name to the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM). In 2015, CTUM was officially registered and thereby accepted by the government.

CTUM is today the leading trade union force in the country. CTUM currently has 70,000 members divided into 8 unions. The unions organize, among other things, industrial and mining workers, public employees and farm workers. Among them are local unions in 700 factories.

The stronger trade union presence has meant demands for collective agreements and new labor market legislation. In some cases, disagreements between trade unions and employers have given rise to conflicts. In particular, there were a large number of conflicts during the years 2013 and 2014. Trade union representatives hope that a better regulated labor market will contribute to increased stability.

A large group of Burmese are migrant workers and work in the service sector in Thailand, especially in the tourism industry and in the food industry. Protests and strikes have also become more common within this group. Democratization in Myanmar (Burma) has created higher expectations among those working abroad. Despite increased trade union freedoms, repression of trade union work is common. Some groups of workers are particularly vulnerable to oppression in working life. This includes several of the country’s ethnic minorities.



Central trade unions: Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM). In addition, there are several local and independent unions that have not joined any central organization. CTUM belongs to the World Trade Union ITUC.


Cambodia’s trade union movement was shattered by war and the genocide of Pol Pot. Now the trade unions are growing again, mainly due to an expanding textile industry. At the same time, the repression against trade union work is extensive with recurring violations of the right to organize and harassment of trade union representatives.

Cambodia’s trade union movement is strongly divided and divided according to politics and personal interests. There are several central trade union organizations in the country, but also a number of trade unions that do not belong to any central organization. The three most important central trade unions are: Cambodia Confederation of Trade Unions (CCTU) with 10,000 members. Cambodia Confederation of Unions (CCU) with 95,000 members and Cambodia Labor Confederation (CLC) with 60,000 members. In addition, there is, among other things, an independent trade union for textile workers, the Independent Cambodian Trade Union for Textile Workers, which plays a significant role in improving conditions in the clothing industries.

In February 2012, trade unions and other popular movements organized a tribunal to hold responsible multinational companies accountable for intolerable conditions. A number of workers testified at the tribunal that they fainted during working hours due to stress, long working days and malnutrition.

A report from Fair Action shows that more and more clothing workers in Cambodia have temporary jobs. It is not uncommon for workers to be employed for as short as one month at a time. This makes it easy for employers to get rid of union workers or workers who do not want to work overtime. One consequence is that many employees are afraid of organizing in a union.



Trade unions: Three of the central trade unions belong to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). These are the Cambodia Confederation of Trade Unions (CCTU), the Cambodia Confederation of Unions (CCU) and the Cambodia Labor Confederation (CLC).


Indonesia is one of 11 countries in Southeast Asia. In the country of Indonesia, there are more than 70 registered trade unions. Only a small part of these are central organizations. Most are unions, many of which belong to a registered confederation. In addition, a relatively large group of trade unions only exists on paper. Some have collapsed, others have never been more than a central office. Among the trade union confederations there is thus only a handful that there is reason to take seriously. The oldest organization is KSPSI, ie a direct continuation of the former state-controlled trade union movement. However, the internal disintegration of KSPSI has continued and the organization has split several times. KSPSI states that the organization currently has about half a million members.

A union structure that consists of both old reformed unions and a number of newly formed ones is KSPI. KSPI was formed in 2003 and currently reports that it has about 3 million members.

The Swedish trade union movement is currently in contact with several unions in Indonesia, most of which are affiliated with KSPI. Major members of KSPI include the Indonesian teachers’ union PGRI and the metal unions SPMI, which have local departments at Swedish companies such as SKF.

A trade union movement that has emerged entirely alongside the previously state-controlled movement is KSBSI. KSBSI was founded in 1992 and its leaders were imprisoned and persecuted during the dictatorship. Today, KSBSI organizes trade unions in most of Indonesia’s provinces and is the third largest confederation.

In recent times, co-operation between the various trade union branches has improved somewhat. When the government in 2010 presented a new proposal for a social insurance law, the large trade union movements formulated a common critique.

At the national level, there are a number of different tripartite bodies – including for wage issues and conflicts in the labor market. The Ministry of Labor has selected three trade unions to be represented in the bodies – KSPSI, KSPI and SBSI. Another important group is the Trade Union Consultative Council linked to Parliament. Even in this, only three confederations are now active – KSPSI, KSPI and SBSI. Collective agreements occur in principle only at company level. But in most companies there are no agreements at all.

The largest trade union strike in the world in 2013 took place in Indonesia. During the month of October-November, more than 1.5 million workers went on strike. They demanded a 50% increase in the minimum wage, health insurance that covers all employees, laws that prevent the increase in precarious jobs in connection with outsourcing and a stronger protection of domestic workers. In the West Java city of Bekasi, the striking workers were attacked by criminal gangs. According to the unions, the gangs were paid by anti-union employers. 17 workers were stabbed and seriously injured.

In November 2015, possibly the largest demonstrations in the country’s history took place when several trade unions protested in Jakarta against the government’s proposal for new minimum wages. The trade unions demanded a larger increase in the minimum wage. The union protests were met with violence from the police and 26 union activists were arrested, including the general secretary of the KSPI and the leading representative of the metal union FSPM. The union activists were detained pending trial. However, following a court decision in November 2016, all activists were acquitted and released. The Indonesian trade union movement celebrated the decision, describing it as a major “victory” for the Indonesian trade union movement.

However, repression and abuse of trade unionists have continued. It is common for employees to be denied the right to organize in a trade union and not to be allowed to enter into collective agreements. Particularly vulnerable are temporary contract workers and employees in outsourced operations.



Central trade unions: KSPSI, KSPI, CITU, KSBSI and more. Two organizations belong to the world union ITUC : KSPI and KSBSI.


The trade union movement is weak and completely controlled by the ruling party LPRP. No trade union freedom exists.

The central trade union Federation of Lao Trade Unions (FLTU) includes five unions. An overwhelming majority of FLTU’s 77,000 members are employed by the state, but even for these, trade union rights are restricted. Public employees, for example, do not have the right to strike. Only one percent of the workforce is employed in industry.



Central trade unions: Federation of Lao Trade Unions (FLTU). FLTU are members of the communist trade union international FVF. There is no trade union organization in the country that belongs to the World Trade Union ITUC.

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