August 19, 2016

Like tracks and trains, workers and owners are interdependent

If employers are railway tracks, workers are locomotives. Both the tracks and locomotive play crucial roles in reaching a certain destination. Without a track, trains cannot move, and without engines, the tracks have no use.
The Myanmar government has introduced its first-ever minimum wage of K3,600 (US $3.2) per day for all workers, following a year of  negotiation between the government, employers and labour representatives. However, the country’s garment business owners have objected to the proposed rate, vowing to take the issue up with regional authorities and threatening to close around 100 factories.
Garment industry entrepreneurs wanted to set the rate at K2,500, while workers demanded K4,000 per day. Owners have complained about the impact on access to international markets. Some government factory owners are reportedly planning to reduce their overtime rates from double pay to time-and-a-half if the Parliament adopts the proposed minimum wage.
ASEAN countries have increasingly been following the strategy of China, which has raised minimum wage levels and enacted new labour laws with greater protection of workers’ rights. The strategy is aimed at combating inflation and preventing labour unrest.
A suitable minimum wage needs to be set to ensure workers can meet their living costs. Myanmar’s minimum wage is one of the lowest in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar’s garment industry needs to have access to international markets. Capable owners should seek market strategies that allow them to pay a reasonable minimum wage compared with neighbouring countries. The government should also support them with better infrastructure such as electricity and logistics.
As Myanmar is moving toward democratic reform, all parties must maintain ethical conduct and remember their reliance on one another – like locomotives and rail tracks – for everyone’s benefit.


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