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March 19, 2018

Concern over Myanmar labour law reform process

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) have welcomed the labour law reform process underway in Myanmar, but say it needs to lead to the implementation of laws and regulations for the country's garment and footwear sectors.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) have welcomed the labour law reform process underway in Myanmar, but say it needs to lead to the implementation of laws and regulations for the country’s garment and footwear sectors.

Their action is prompted by reports from social partners in Myanmar indicating that recent drafts prepared by the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, and by the Assembly of the Union, remain far from compliant with the minimum standards of the ILO fundamental conventions.

In an open letter to State Counselor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, AAFA president Rick Helfenbein and FLA CEO Sharon Waxman urge the government to work with social partners and the ILO to ensure any final laws comport with international norms and best practices, and that it establishes the appropriate capacity to enforce these laws.

“It is imperative this process results in laws and regulations that are consistent with the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization, and thus creates a strong foundation for mature industrial relations in Myanmar,” they write.

“The potential to initiate, maintain, and expand business relationships in Myanmar is greatly enhanced by the ability to engage with workers that have freedom of association and collective bargaining, and to be able to address any grievances through predictable, transparent channels, enforced by the government, that have the confidence of all stakeholders.”

They two organisations say they believe the Labor Organizations Law (2011) and the Settlement of Labor Disputes Law (2012), as currently written, do not comply with international norms and best practices, and thus have not led to the development of sound industrial relations.

They further believe the Government has not effectively implemented or enforced these labour laws, with trade unions having struggled to obtain registration, workers facing retaliation for legitimate union activity, and existing dispute resolution procedures not proving effective in remedying violations of the labour laws.  

The FLA says its own factory assessments in Myanmar have corroborated these shortcomings. A 2016 assessment at an apparel factory in Yangon found that two workers who had tried to organise a union were summarily dismissed and the factory management regularly impressed upon the workers during weekly meetings that the union was detrimental to their well-being. In another Yangon factory assessed by FLA in 2017, assessors reported that all worker representatives were directly appointed by factory management and not democratically elected by their peers. 

“It is essential that any new laws create an enabling environment for workers and employers to associate freely and to bargain. With the right laws and procedures in place, and effective implementation, Myanmar can distinguish itself and attract responsible businesses who can create long-term relationships in Myanmar. This will not only benefit global brands, but also local employers, workers, and the country,” they conclude.

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