For decades there were no functioning industrial relations in Myanmar, no trade unions and no collective bargaining. As the country is opening up and welcoming international business, trade unions are working hard to achieve a living wage for members.
IndustriALL aims to strengthen affiliate actions to achieve a living wage in Myanmar, improve understanding of how unions can use the different wage-fixing mechanisms, explore how IndustriALL’s global living wage campaign can be used to improve wage outcomes in Myanmar, and further develop the affiliates’ campaign for implementation of the new minimum wage of US$3.2 per day.
On 22 – 24 July, IndustriALL held a workshop on living wage in Yangon, Myanmar. A worker’s take-home pay is made up of various bonuses and allowances, making the minimum wage issue complicated. At the workshop, the ILO discussed wage setting in Myanmar. People have to work 60 hours a week to meet their needs and often take out loans to survive until the next paycheck. The low salaries mean living conditions are poor, and workers jump from factory to factory looking for better pay.
The low wages forcing workers to seek a better deal elsewhere make the employers unwilling to invest in training, meaning that workers remain low skilled. It is a vicious circle as skilled workers are key to moving up the value-chain.
Wage-setting institutions in Myanmar need to be strengthened. Participants at the workshop discussed how to use wage-fixing mechanisms, how to combine a minimum wage strategy with collective bargaining, and how to extend collective bargaining agreements to sub-contractors and to cover contract and other precarious workers. The minimum wage issue was recognized a useful organizing tool.
There was agreement that the collective bargaining process should have some tripartite mechanism to monitor it, which may lead to reducing the number of strikes. Furthermore national unions can get help from the global trade union federations to apply pressure. National unions should get the government to agree to a contract for precarious workers. Contract workers should be covered by the factory’s collective bargaining agreement, as well as the minimum wage.
IndustriALL project coordinator Kenny Perkins explained the collective bargaining process that Myanmar unions should strive for:
1 – Unionize – collect data
2 – Form a collective bargaining committee – draft the proposal
3 – Final study of the proposal – prepare supporting documents
4 – Submit the proposal to EXCO – EXCO submits it to management
5 – Elect the negotiating team – make sure women are present
6 – Negotiations – sign the agreement
7 – Educate and organize – register the agreement to make it legal
He underlined the importance of trade unions acting in unity to gain more for the workers:
If unions do not agree among each other, it weakens the bargaining power and makes it easier for employers to take advantage of the situation.
From a minimum wage to a living wage
Wages should be enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income. Although the minimum wage in Myanmar is in many ways a landmark, it is still not a living wage. The living wage campaign is a priority for IndustriALL.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Monika Kemperle presented the key elements:
- Support national minimum wage campaigns
- Promote industry bargaining
- Global brand strategy
Owners in the garment industry are local while orders come from international brands. IndustriALL works with brands to target a living wage by jointly pushing for increases to the minimum wage, exploring possibilities to negotiate industry wage agreements, and promoting unionization and collective bargaining.
Participants were asked what they understood to be a living wage:
We want to have a decent salary where your family doesn’t have to support you.
With this minimum wage we don’t have to work overtime to achieve 100 dollars.
It means to have dignity as a woman and a worker.
We want to have an active and dynamic life in safety and security.
We want to have time for our hobbies.