Over 400,000 civil servants have been on strike against the military regime since February, according to Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG).
The NUG’s Planning and Finance Minister, U Tin Tun Naing, said on Tuesday that almost 410,000 government staff have “steadfastly joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) so far”.
The exact number of civil servants in the country is unknown. Some estimates suggest that there are over one million government staff. By those figures, almost half of all state employees are on strike in protest at military rule.
Since the junta’s February I coup, government workers ranging from directors to junior officers and clerks, and even some police and soldiers from the Home Affairs and Defense Ministries, have refused to work for the regime, preventing the junta from running the country properly. Many of the civil servants who are on strike have been sacked or threatened with arrest. Others are in hiding.
The NUG, which was formed by the country’s elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy government and their ethnic allies, is trying to fund salaries for civil servants participating in the CDM, especially junior staff.
The regime’s ability to govern has been hit hard by the CDM. At the end of February, coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing decried the fact that nearly one-third of Myanmar’s 1,262 public hospitals had been unable to function for nearly three weeks because so many healthcare workers were on strike.
In July, as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, hospitals were overwhelmed because of the shortage of medics and the devastated coup leader ordered them to hire doctors and nurses on a contract basis.
The banking sector has also been paralysed by the CDM, with both private and government banks barely able to operate due to striking staff.
It is believed that the actual number of government workers on strike is higher than the figure reported, in part because many civil servants have been forced to return to work by the regime in the last few months. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of soldiers and police deserting their units. As of this month, nearly 2,000 of them have joined the CDM since the coup.
“Make no mistake, the striking workers have joined the CDM not for the NUG’s financial assistance to them but for the sake of a brighter future for the next generation,” said U Tin Tun Naing. “We (the NUG) are fully responsible to support them,” he added.
The NUG has tried to assist striking civil servants since its formation in April, but with intermittent success. In order to raise more funds for them, the NUG launched an online lottery this month. 70 percent of the proceeds from the lottery will go to support people on strike. The lottery has proved hugely popular, with all tickets sold out in just over an hour on the day of its launch, despite threats from the regime that it will punish anyone who plays it.
As of Tuesday, almost 250,000 tickets had been sold in just five days. The lottery is currently on hold for system management.