16 April, 2018Yes, a Korean-owned garment factory in Yangon, Myanmar, is in some ways a rarity among the many other factories found in the township Hlaing Thar Yar. Workers here have formed a trade union and have negotiated a collective agreement with management.
There is still resistance to joining a union among workers in Myanmar, as they fear for reprisals, and unions are often met with skepticism from employers.
We have a good relationship with the management, and we meet once a month,
says Win Thegyi Soe, who used to work as a machine operator but is now a full-time union president paid by the employer. Her union is affiliated to Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar, which in its turn is affiliated to IndustriALL.
Well-functioning industrial relations were not the case with the factory’s previous management. In 2016, after several attempts to engage management in fruitful discussions on working conditions with the union, workers went on strike for two weeks.
After a change in management, the union negotiated a collective agreement, covering the 1,200 workers. In addition to regulated working hours, minimum wage and bonuses, and social security, workers also have access to transport to and from work, as well as a clinic with a nurse.
The working week for garment workers in Myanmar is 44 hours, often with additional 19 hours overtime.
Myanmar’s new minimum wage as of 1 April is 4,800 kyats.
It is not enough; the new minimum wage is far from a living wage for a single individual, let alone if the worker has dependents,
says Khaing Zar, IWFM general secretary.
Trade unions became legal in Myanmar in 2012. In December 2014 the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) and the Mining Workers Federation of Myanmar (MWFM) joined IndustriALL Global Union. Both trade unions are affiliated to the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), one of three central confederations in the country.
Together with external donors SASK and Mondiaal FNV, IndustriALL runs a project in Myanmar aiming to build stronger unions in the country through identifying and overcoming obstacles to organizing.