- 1 -
A Study of Labour Conditions in Yangon’s Industrial Zones (2012-2013)
With Myanmar going through a period of transition and the space for civil society is expanding,the role of labour unions in promoting and protecting fundamental rights of workers is vital yetthe challenges they face in the current environment are huge.Workers in Yangon’s 13 industrial zones work in unsafe, hot, overcrowded factories, typicallyfor around 11 hours per day, 6 days per week. A complex system of bonus pay for punctualityand non-absence pay as well as a meagre daily wage leaves most workers needing to workovertime to make money. This cycle is completed by the need to go to pay-day-lenders at theend of the month to make up for the shortfall in meeting their basic needs. Thus they have nochoice but to continue working as many hours as possible to pay off this debt. The living conditionsare also squalid, and transportation between factory-provided hostels or rented spaces sharedwith many others can add hours onto a day and for many women leave them vulnerable tosexual harassment late at night.Yet the last two years, more and more labour unions have emerged from the shadows of directmilitary rule, and two waves of strikes have seen workers fight for their rights as people arebeginning to test the waters in a new political environment. Unfortunately their rights are notadequately protected by law. Despite two new laws promulgated in 2012, the Labour OrganizationLaw and the Labour Dispute Settlement Law, weaknesses, holes, and lack of concrete protectionin this legislation means that they contravene aspects of the two core ILO Conventions that arerelevant to this report, the
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise,Convention N°87 and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, Convention N°98
. Strikingworkers and labour activists are routinely threatened, intimidated, or dismissed by employers.The mechanisms established by the legislation do not sufficiently protect workers against suchconsequences while dispute settlement processes are further complicated by third parties whointervene with good intentions yet lack the competency and knowledge of labour standards or an awareness of the situation on the ground for workers themselves.The struggle for workers in Yangon’s industrial zones, and indeed everywhere in Myanmar, willbe long and complex. Despite some positive noises from the government there is still a lack of political will to genuinely protect and promote labour rights. With the imminent onset of a hugeincrease in foreign direct investment, the industries in Yangon’s industrial zones, especially thegarment industry, are set to grow substantially over the next few years, thus exacerbatingexisting problems unless labour standards are vastly improved. Prevailing corruption and thelack of rule of law is another debilitating factor in this struggle as those with power and money,who are certainly not the workers, seek to maintain the status quo.
An update on developments that have occurred since this report was written is available in the Burmese language version