Trade union reg­is­tra­tion of­fers hope

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

Last week the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment of­fi­cially reg­is­tered the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions of Myan­mar (CTUM). This move comes at a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant time as a dis­pute over the min­i­mum daily wage con­tin­ues to hit the head­lines and gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers try to lobby the gov­ern­ment to keep the daily min­i­mum wage at a pal­try 2,500 kyat (US$2.16). This is a wage that can barely sus­tain an adult let alone a fam­ily.

In an at­tempt to en­sure their work­ers con­tinue to live in ab­ject poverty more than 160 busi­ness own­ers in Myan­mar wrote to the gov­ern­ment to show their ob­jec­tion to the pro­posed min­i­mum wage of 3,600 kyat (US$3.11). Man­u­fac­tur­ers have threat­ened to close around 100 busi­nesses should the new law be in­tro­duced in what is a se­ri­ous af­front to the work­ers who toil ev­ery day and who help pro­vide the prof­its to their share­hold­ers

These busi­ness­peo­ple, who work for Chi­nese, Korean and Myan­mar-owned gar­ment fac­to­ries, one of the largest sources of in­dus­trial em­ploy­ment in the coun­try, ar­gue that the in­crease would make their busi­nesses un­sus­tain­able stat­ing that a higher min­i­mum wage for gar­ment work­ers would dis­cour­age in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment.

How­ever, this is a claim that many re­tail­ers who source from the coun­try deny. Rather, they say, a min­i­mum wage that has been ne­go­ti­ated by all par­ties will at­tract rather than de­ter in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies from buy­ing gar­ments from the coun­try es­pe­cially com­pa­nies that have com­mit­ted to up­hold­ing in­ter­na­tional labour stan­dards in their global sup­ply chain.

It is quite clear that man­u­fac­tur­ers are try­ing to hold the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment to ran­som and seek to con­tinue the op­pres­sion of those that work for them. Work­ers rights groups claim this is a crit­i­cal time for a strong trade union move­ment to come for­ward and sup­port vul­ner­a­ble work­ers.

The trade union move­ment has suf­fered un­der pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary gov­ern­ments. The Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions Burma (FTU-B) was an un­der­ground trade union formed in 1991 and in­cluded work­ers and stu­dents who were in­volved in the gen­eral strike of Au­gust and Septem­ber, 1988. How­ever, due to mil­i­tary poli­cies at the time its mem­bers were ar­rested and jailed. Some were sen­tenced to death.

The fact that the Gov­ern­ment has al­lowed the reg­is­tra­tion of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions of Myan­mar (CTUM) sug­gests a strong com­mit­ment to the re­form process and the author­i­ties should not al­low them­selves to be bul­lied by busi­ness own­ers.

The CTUM must be en­cour­aged in its work to en­sure bet­ter leg­is­la­tion, de­cent jobs, sus­tain­able liv­ing wages, and democ­racy in the work­place. As a let­ter to the CTUM from the In­ter­na­tional Trade Union Con­fed­er­a­tion (ITUC) notes:

‘’ [Myan­mar] is be­com­ing a new refuge to in­vestors seek­ing low wages in the Asian re­gion. We be­lieve that the work­ing peo­ple and trade unions of Myan­mar have the right and op­por­tu­nity to choose a model of eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment that is fair, just and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able rather than the race to the bot­tom. The grow­ing in­flux of for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment must be ac­com­pa­nied by the pro­tec­tion of fun­da­men­tal labour stan­dards, fair liv­ing wages, and ef­fec­tive col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing with in­de­pen­dent trade unions.’’

Let us hope that fun­da­men­tal labour stan­dards can be given to the work­ers of Myan­mar.

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