As electricity shortages become ever more frequent and fuel prices soar, factory owners in Burma say their businesses are struggling to survive from one day to the next.
Over recent weeks, many areas of Yangon have faced severe power outages, with some residents claiming that for every four hours of electricity received six hours are now spent cut off from the grid. At the same time, the retail price of diesel has risen almost threefold over the course of the year.
Now, those running Burma’s garment factories — a key source of employment in the country – are expressing that outages are obstructing the production of clothing.
“I’ve heard many factories would have to stop operating and shut down due to this crisis. We currently have no choice but to use generators, despite the high fuel prices,” one owner, an employer of 1,000 workers, told DVB. “We have to make cuts in other areas — we are barely surviving in this condition whilst having to meet our orders. If things continue like this, it will be impossible to continue operations in the long run.”
Burma’s garment sector provided employment for an estimated 700,000 workers before the coup, the majority of whom were young women working to support families in outlying rural areas.
250,000 jobs in the sector were lost in the first half of 2021 alone, and more than half of those still working in Burma’s factories have reported dramatically shortened working hours, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
“Because of the power outages, we operate machinery ourselves, using diesel generators. As everyone knows, the price of fuel is now high, causing producers a huge problem. We have been told by the Garment Association that they have applied [to military authorities] to buy fuel at a discount price — we applied for it last week,” said the owner of a factory employing 100 garment workers. “Right now, we get four to six hours of power per day, but have been told to expect 24-hour power outages from March 12 to 18 — I don’t know for how much longer we can rely on mains electricity.”