Fashion brands and retailers who are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) are urging the Myanmar Government to resist calls to exempt the country's garment manufacturers from a new minimum wage.

Earlier this month, the government proposed a minimum wage of MMK3,600 (US$3.22) per day, resulting in anger and frustration from the 200 members of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA), including scores of Chinese and South Korean factory owners.

They voted unanimously in favour of paying no more than MMK2,500 (US$2.21) per day - threatening to close around 100 factories if the government's minimum wage is introduced. The proposed rate represents a compromise between what industry groups were calling for and what unions (MMK4,000) were calling for.

The ETI and its members, however, are supporting international calls for the wage to be applied countrywide, articulating its point in a letter to the government, urging it to resist requests for an exemption for garment manufacturers.

"Our letter was sent on behalf of ETI member companies that are currently sourcing from Myanmar, or considering investing in the country, and wish to see garment sector growth being underpinned by the provision of decent employment for Myanmar workers," the group noted.

"A minimum wage that has been negotiated by all parties will attract rather than deter international companies from buying garments from Myanmar, particularly companies such as ETI members that have committed to upholding international labour rights standards in their global supply chains."

The ETI explained that if Myanmar’s garment industry wage levels are lower than other industries, the sector will not be able to retain the skilled labour force it needs to play its part in driving economic growth. Additionally, an exemption would also mean garment workers being "unfairly denied a wage that meets their basic needs", and could lead to work stoppages and industrial unrest, it said.

ETI director Peter McAllister added: "While Myanmar presents particular challenges to companies to trade responsibly, there are opportunities to avoid many of the pitfalls seen in other sourcing countries. We urge Myanmar’s government to take a firm stance to help improve conditions - it is vital to ensure that the first ever minimum wage level doesn't lock workers from one sector into poverty."