Myanmar garment workers’ rights have now reached critical levels under criteria set by international labour laws, a director of the Labour Rights Defenders and Promoters (LRDP) Daw Ei Shwe Zin Nyunt said yesterday.
The report was made following investigations conducted by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen-SOMO) and Action Labor Rights, and Labour Rights Defenders and Promoters (LRDP) on 12 factories and 400 workers.
Twelve factories located in different industrial zones in and around Yangon, Bago and Pathein and Thilawa Special Economic Zone were investigated. Of the 12, three are Myanmar-owned while the other nine factories are foreign-owned – Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, Chinese and Korean.
The report described a series of labour rights and human rights issues in this industry, including very low wages, unlawful wage deduction (for sick leave, for example), very long working days, unpaid and forced overtime, abuse of apprentices to avoid paying the legal minimum wage, child labour, and unhealthy and unsafe working conditions.
The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) is a critical, independent, not-for-profit knowledge centre investigating multinational corporations and the impact of their activities on people and the environment.
Daw Ei Shwe Zin Nyunt said before the report was released to the public, the companies involved were informed of the findings and “had not denied” them.
“So they also understood these conditions but they neglected (them) and didn’t take on the issues of workers,” she said.
The findings of the report showed that conditions for garment factory workers in Myanmar were “far from fair” and that employers were manipulating the weakness in the labour laws to violate the rights of workers, said director of Action Labor Rights Ko Thurein Aung.
“The ministry has the responsibility to control and drive for better protection for the rights of garment employers,” he said.
After years of economic isolation, foreign investment is now flowing into Myanmar after the lifting of economic sanctions. The garment industry, specifically, has benefited greatly from foreign investment and has grown exponentially in recent years.
In 2014, Myanmar’s total export value of garments reached US$986 million, nearly tripling the value of the 2010 garment exports of $337 million. According to the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA), garment exports totalled $1.46 billion in 2015, accounting for 10 per cent of the country’s export revenues.
The European Union is the fastest growing export market for Myanmar garments, with imports achieving a staggering 80 pc growth in 2015 from just three years before.
“The rule of law in Myanmar is not adequately upheld,” said SOMO leader Martje Theuws in a statement.
“Civil society organisations and trade unions have only been allowed to operate since 2012. The garment industry’s operations go largely unchecked. The question is justified if the time is ripe for foreign companies to invest in Myanmar.”
‘’When we checked some factories, we found two wage documents. The first document of employees showed the worker’s wage paid in accordance with the international law on worker wages, but the second document had shown the real wages which violate the law,” Ko Thurein Aung says.
When the NLD-led government took office, government organisations were changed and replaced, but the issue of rights abuse persists because service staff and many top officers have not changed, said Action Labor Rights activist Ko Sai Yu Muang.
Under the current government, the labour worker issue has been mainly tackled by the two committees of Hluttaw on workers and with the collaboration of the worker unions and the Department of the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population.