Dialogue key to averting workplace disputes
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.
Workplace dialogue is essential to prevent disputes.