Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Industry minister calls for trade union support

Tuesday, 05 June 2012 12:14 Lynn Bo Bo

Rangoon (Mizzima) – As labour strikes increase in Rangoon, the Minister for Industry and Myanmar Investment Commission Chairman Soe Thein called for more support of trade unions and the protection of workers’ rights.

Speaking about the garment industry at a workshop on Sunday at the Chatrium Hotel in Rangoon, he said, “Form the trade unions, the sooner the better. I’d like to ask civil society and political parties to offer their help in forming these trade unions.”

Striking workers at the Sunny clothing factory in Rangoon. Photo: Min Min Oo / Mizzima

Labour Minister Aung Kyi said at the workshop that more than 15,000 workers are now in labour negotiations with their employers over issues of wages and working conditions.

Minister Soe Thein said that as demand increases in the labour market, the workers’ position would be stronger as investments in Burma become stronger. He called on the Labour Ministry to do more for workers’ labour rights.

“We need labour officers to monitor the situation,” he said.  “I’d like to suggest that the government appoint such officers. The Labour Ministry must monitor the labour affairs situation.

“What should be the working hours per day: 8 or 9? Why should workers take off their footwear in a factory? I’ve never heard of a country where the workers need to take off their shoes.

“They should wear their footwear which can protect them. They must have the right to sit in their workplace. They must have a break time. They must have reading time, too. They are human beings, they are Burmese nationals, they are our citizens,” said the minister.

At the workshop, 88-Generation student leader Ko Ko Gyi said he was deeply moved be the demands made by the workers.

“In the demand made by the workers from one factory,” he said, “they asked for a 12-hour working day from 7 to 7. They didn't know about their rights to an eight-hour working day. They just asked for reducing their working hours from the current 14 to 12. They are content even with this 12-hour working day. I felt extremely sorry for them."

Ko Ko Gyi, a former political prisoner, said disputes between employers and employees must be resolved through arbitration and negotiation, and he urged government officials and employers not to view striking workers as agitators and their action as a revolt.

“It’s important not to see these hungry people as agitators and trouble makers,” Ko Ko Gyi said.

During the conference, a labour organization chairman asked a question: “Is it possible to draft a law with a wage at a meager rate of 65 kyat per hour (US$ 8 cents)?”

 In May 2012, 36,810 workers from 57 factories staged strikes asking for better wages and working conditions. Thirty-eight factories with more than 20,000 worker reached settlements, officials said.

Burma passed a new Labour Organization Law on October 11, 2011, and enacted a Trade Dispute Law on March 28, 2012, to bring labour laws closer to international standards.

Eight laws that will offer more protection to workers including the Social Welfare Law, Leave and Holidays Law, Wage Law, Workmen’s Compensation Law and others are now in the drafting or amendment stage, officials said.

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