A second trade union has spoken out about the proposal for a 3,600-kyat (US$3.60) minimum wage in Burma, this time the All-Myanmar Network of Trade Unions, which has rejected the offer and called on workers to be prepared to take to the streets in protest.
Trade union leader Hla Hla said on Tuesday that workers’ groups must not back down from their initial demand of 4,000 kyat as a minimum daily wage.
Representatives of garment factories, however, say they cannot afford to pay more than 2,500 kyat as a daily wage for factory workers, and have threatened to close down operations if such salary conditions are enforced.
Speaking as a representative of the All-Myanmar Network of Trade Unions, Hla Hla said, “Nothing will happen to us if they [foreign and domestic garment firms] close down. I would like to remind fellow workers that the operators can’t just pack up and leave just because they cannot pay us the proposed minimum wage. There are regulations that require them to provide severance payments to their workers. If they refuse to do so, we’ll pursue legal channels to get what they owe us.”
She added that her organisation is seeking permission from Hlaing Tharyar township police to stage a protest with 3,000 participants.
Meanwhile, Ei Shwezin Nyunt of the Labour Rights Defenders and Promoters Organisation said workers at the factories should be patient and wait for the outcome.
“We would like to urge the workers to be patient. Let’s wait and see, and not take anything for granted,” she said, adding that workers should not fear the threats by foreign owners to close down factories.
“Burma has cheap labour,” she said. “Foreign operators are investing in our country as we move towards a democratic system – they have nowhere else to go and are only making empty threats.
“If they decide to stop doing business here, someone else will take their place. Our workers won’t end up being migrants or homeless just because these foreign investors left.”
She said that not many of the nearly 330 factory operators in the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) have indicated they would pull out.
“Some 145 operators in the MGMA objected to the proposed 3,600 kyat wage, while about 90 of them – 30 Chinese and 60 South Korean operators – threatened to close down production,” said Ei Shwezin Nyunt. “Many other factory operators remain, and more investors are set to come, so it shouldn’t be too much of a mess.”
She said that while a 3,600 kyat-per-day minimum wage is not a lot, it is still a positive improvement for workers across the country.
Talks involving workers’ rights groups, factory owners and government officials were hosted last week in Rangoon by the National Committee for Minimum Wage (NCMW), a government-appointed commission.
NCMW member Win Shein said the garment industry can survive even without the dissenting companies.
“We can only consider what [minimum wage] is possible. There is no need for a headache – someone will always be ready to step in. Foreign companies have invested so much to operate here, so someone else will always be willing to take over. We are not worried,” he said.
The NCMW announced that it proposed a 3,600-kyat minimum wage based on a survey of living expenses conducted in more than 100 townships across the country.
The Labour Ministry-led committee submitted its recommendation to the government on 29 June, with a two-week deadline to make objections.
But while the All-Myanmar Network of Trade Unions has rejected the minimum wage proposal, on Sunday the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) threw its support behind the NCMW’s plan.