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Standing Strong with Union Support

Phyo Sandar Soe

As I sit here in New Zealand, safe from the brutality of Myanmar’s military regime, I consider what brought me here. My escape was not a solitary endeavour, but proof to the strength and solidarity fostered by the international union movement. It is through the solid support of organisations like the NZCTU and UnionAID that I found a safe place to continue the fight for my brothers and sisters back at home.

Before the military coup forced Myanmar into chaos, I, along with many others, was deeply involved in the fight for democracy and human rights. As a trade unionist, my role was clear: to resist oppression on diplomatic, economic, and political fronts. For months, I organised protests, advocating for the rights of workers and the voice of the people.

We were noticed by the junta. Arrest warrants were issued, and the threat of imprisonment was daily. Hiding became a necessity, as the military raided our homes and offices, targeting activists and union leaders. Every day was a battle for survival, with the risk of arrest or worse hanging over our heads.

The international union movement was a beacon of hope. Through their advocacy and support, I was able to find sanctuary in New Zealand, far from the reach of the military junta. The assistance provided by the NZCTU and UnionAID, combined with the compassionate response of the Labour government, saved me from a fate of imprisonment, torture and worse.

Leaving my home is just one part of a larger struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar. While I am safe here, my heart aches for my family, friends, colleagues and fellow activists who are trapped in a cycle of violence and oppression. The sacrifices they’ve made continue to remind me to carry on our fight.

Sandar with her two sisters and two nieces. “Even though we all are struggling, we keep smiling to endure all kinds of hardship.”

As a member of the International Labour Organization Governing Body and a representative of CTUM, I am committed to keeping the resistance against oppression. From New Zealand, I advocate for the rights of workers and speak out against the atrocities committed by the military regime. But my work is not done alone; it is a collective effort.

Now, I have a new challenge: the new New Zealand government allowing Myanmar’s military officials in for the ASEAN meeting. This decision flies in the face of everything we stand for – democracy, human rights, and justice. It is a betrayal of the values that New Zealand has championed in the past, the values that brought me here.

I urge the New Zealand government and ASEAN to reconsider their stance and refuse visas to those responsible for the violence and oppression in Myanmar. By engaging with the military regime, they are legitimising their actions and turning a blind eye to the suffering of the Myanmar people. It is time for action, not empty words or hollow gestures.

Myanmar is counting on the support of the international community to stand up against tyranny and injustice. Together, we must send a clear message that the atrocities committed by the military regime will not be tolerated. I ask you to stand with the people of Myanmar in our fight for freedom and democracy.

This is not just about me or my colleagues – it is about the future of Myanmar and the generations to come. We cannot afford to remain silent in the face of such blatant disregard for human rights. It is time to take a stand and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

Phyo Sandar Soe

Assistant to the Secretary General of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM)

Beginning her journey as a union organiser and educator, Sandar has steadfastly championed democracy, peace, and most notably, the rights of workers and trade unions.

Her dedication and advocacy have propelled her to the position of Secretary General of the Building and Wood Workers Federation of Myanmar (BWFM). She also serves as a member of the ILO Governing Body and is one of the Deputy Presidents of the 12 million-strong Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI).