Ministry looks to amend labour laws, pressed to add jail terms
LABOUR laws could soon get an overhaul, with rights groups pushing the government to add harsher penalties for inveterate lawbreaking employers, including potential jail time.
Labour and Immigration Minister U Thein Swe said last week that his ministry has been discussing amendments with workers, employers and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
“We are trying to amend the laws and will able to be report on our progress about labour affairs during the ILO’s meeting in the coming month,” he said on October 6.
The Labour Organisation Law and the Labour Dispute Law are the most likely to be amended, he said.
A trilateral meeting between the ministry, employers and employees will be held before the final decision regarding amendments is released, said Labour and Immigration Ministry deputy director general U Aung Htay Win.
“The laws have many weak points and we need better enforcement in the future,” he said. “Therefore, we will try to make amendments agreed upon by all involved parties, the employers and employees. We are still reviewing and cannot say the exact date when the information about the changes will be released.”
Workers’ representatives demanded an amendment that would see employers imprisoned if they habitually fail to follow rules relating to labour disputes. In September 2014 the Labour Dispute Law was amended to include a maximum K1 million fine, which labour unions say is too easy to pay off. The workers allege that they are left with little recourse, despite fuelling a growing industry that provides a sizeable portion of the country’s exports.
Several factories have recently been taken to task after flouting arbitration council orders, with labour department officials filing a lawsuit against the company owners.
However, members of the Arbitration Council – a dispute resolution body created by the Settlement of Labour Dispute Law – have told The Myanmar Times that both workers and employers regularly violate provisions of Myanmar’s labour laws with impunity.
The rough draft of the amendments adds a jail penalty to the Labour Dispute Law, said Myanmar Industries, Crafts and Services (MICS) vice chair U Naw Aung. The Labour Organisation draft law allows for unions to form freely.
With jail penalties in place, employers will be more incentivised to follow the rules, U Naw Aung said.
Labour and Immigration Ministry permanent secretary U Myo Aung claims, however, that the disputes are born from a lack for trust between employers and employees and a lack of clarity in some paragraphs of the their employee contracts. Therefore, he said, it may be that only a few sections of the law will require amendments.
Myanmar Garment Manufacturing Association chair U Myint Soe said his association is willing to discuss amendments to some labour laws but he urged the ministry to keep in mind foreign investment when enacting a jail penalty because it could clash with the norms of the International Monetary Fund and the ILO.
“Things need to be clearer and we need more discussion between employers and employees,” he said.