Di­a­logue key to avert­ing work­place dis­putes

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Front Page - THE MYANMAR TIMES

Work­place di­a­logue is an es­sen­tial part of re­spon­si­ble sup­ply chains and key to pro­mot­ing ef­fec­tive in­dus­trial re­la­tions, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts at a re­cent sem­i­nar.

WORK­PLACE di­a­logue is es­sen­tial to pre­vent dis­putes and pro­mote in­dus­trial re­la­tions, ex­perts said at a re­cent sem­i­nar, which will im­prove a com­pany’s pro­duc­tiv­ity. Yan­gon-based Myanmar Cen­tre for Re­spon­si­ble Busi­ness (MCRB) and In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ILO) hosted the sec­ond of their “re­spon­si­ble busi­ness sem­i­nars”, fol­low­ing on from the kick-off on re­spon­si­ble busi­ness due dili­gence on July 5. This sem­i­nar fo­cused on “De­cent work: Em­ploy­ment, work­ing con­di­tions, in­dus­trial re­la­tions and un­ac­cept­able forms of work”.

The sem­i­nar was in­tended to pro­vide do­mes­tic and for­eign busi­nesses with prac­ti­cal ad­vice and to fa­cil­i­tate di­a­logue on how to pro­mote ef­fec­tive in­dus­trial re­la­tions and work­place di­a­logue as an es­sen­tial part of re­spon­si­ble sup­ply chains.

Githa Roe­lans from ILO out­lined the var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional stan­dards rel­e­vant to labour rights and em­pha­sised the cen­tral­ity of the 1998 ILO Dec­la­ra­tion on Fun­da­men­tal Prin­ci­ples and Rights at Work and the 2017 MNE Dec­la­ra­tion (5th edi­tion) in guid­ing busi­ness poli­cies and prac­tices. Ms Roe­lans iden­ti­fied the im­por­tance of good in­dus­trial re­la­tions and work­place co­op­er­a­tion as cen­tral el­e­ments in build­ing sus­tain­able en­ter­prises and when do­ing due dili­gence. She high­lighted the im­por­tance of mu­tual re­spect, col­lab­o­ra­tion and di­a­logue to build trust be­tween em­ploy­ers and work­ers as the best means to im­prove work­ing con­di­tions, to pre­vent con­flict and re­duce the risk of es­ca­la­tion of work­place dis­putes.

Tobias Fis­cher, coun­try man­ager of H&M in Myanmar, pro­vided data on ab­sen­teeism rates in their Myanmar fac­to­ries (at least 4pc) and high labour turnover (9pc per month) which re­duces pro­duc­tiv­ity. H&M buys from around 40 lo­cal gar­ment fac­to­ries and is the in­di­rect em­ployer of 40,000 lo­cal work­ers in the coun­try. Data from around 10 of H&M’S sup­pli­ers show that around 39pc of lost pro­duc­tion time is due to ab­sen­teeism, and 19pc due to staff turnover. Bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­dus­trial re­la­tions con­trib­utes to re­duc­ing these rates which are a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to fac­tory down­time and Myanmar’s low pro­duc­tiv­ity lev­els.

Mr Fis­cher iden­ti­fied the im­por­tance of for­eign in­vestors – in­clud­ing the many Chi­ne­se­owned fac­to­ries from which they source – un­der­stand­ing the cul­tural pref­er­ences of their work­force. He gave as an a Chi­nese man­u­fac­turer who wanted to re­ward their work­force with gifts. Ap­ply­ing a Chi­nese mind­set, they wanted to give them sweets and Coke. How­ever, en­gage­ment showed the em­ployer that the work­force would pre­fer cook­ing oil in­stead. Get­ting these small points right helps to build trust but cul­tural un­der­stand­ing needs to be two-way, with Myanmar work­ers un­der­stand­ing Chi­nese man­age­ment.

Sabeh Lwin, EMC Man­u­fac­tur­ing’s HR man­ager de­scribed the pro­duc­tiv­ity ben­e­fits they had ex­pe­ri­enced by im­prov­ing work­place di­a­logue. EMC Man­u­fac­tur­ing is a Hong Kong-based com­pany pro­duc­ing hand­bags in Min­gal­adon town­ship. Prior to 2016, the EMC fac­tory had reg­u­lar dis­putes and strikes re­lated to prac­ti­cal is­sues, in­clud­ing cases taken to the town­ship labour of­fice.

De­spite hav­ing a Work­place Co­or­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee as man­dated un­der Myanmar law, this had not been able to solve these prob­lems ef­fec­tively. Af­ter 2016, EMC changed their ap­proach with more di­rect dis­cus­sion be­tween su­per­vi­sors and hu­man re­sources man­agers, and also be­gan weekly train­ing on fac­tory rules and labour laws, es­pe­cially on leave and work­ing hours. They had col­lected data which showed that greater aware­ness of em­ployee rights led to re­duced ab­sen­teeism and less con­flict.

The sub­se­quent Q&A ses­sion, chaired by ILO Li­ai­son Of­fi­cer in Myanmar Rory Mun­goven, high­lighted the value of labour unions in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments, since they were a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in­sti­tu­tion with le­gal sta­tus which would out­live in­di­vid­ual em­ploy­ees, par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in fac­to­ries with high staff turnover.

Photo: Sup­plied

Work­place di­a­logue is es­sen­tial to pre­vent dis­putes.

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