I would like to extend my greetings and honour to workers, who are an important force for Myanmar, by wishing you physical and mental wellbeing on the occasion of world workers’ day designated in honour of workers across the world on 1 May, 2015.
As 1 May is designated as workers’ day to honour workers across the world and ceremonies to honour workers are held every year, it is an auspicious and significant day for all workers in Myanmar.
As nowadays is the time when an emphasis has been placed upon creation of decent job opportunities for citizens in every country, the government of Myanmar in implementing reform measures has also given priority to providing decent jobs to everyone with the aim of socioeconomic development of the people and poverty reduction.
In doing so, priority has been given to employing the labour force in Myanmar systematically and beneficially, employing those who wish to work in decent workplaces, nurturing disciplined and competently skilled workers and qualified human resource development essential for building a modern nation.
Now we are in 2015, having left 2014 behind. The year 2015 may be an important year in transition for new political, economic and social landscapes in Myanmar and it is an important period for major sectors, including the emergence of a strong labour market after achieving economic development in Myanmar. At a time like this, the skills, experience, knowledge and efforts of Myanmar workers are priceless forces for the country.
As you may all know, the ASEAN Economic Community will be established this year in the region where Myanmar is located. Under these circumstances, skilled workers in the ASEAN region will be able to work in freedom across the region according to the free flow of skilled labour.
In the process for changing the ASEAN region, due to favourable conditions including taking step-by-step reform measures for economic development of Myanmar in respective sectors, invitation of local and foreign investment after policy relaxation, development of Dawei, Thilawa and Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zones, and the geographical location of Myanmar between populous and large markets of China and India, and in an economic corridor of great potential, it can be seen that foreign investment in Myanmar has been increasing, with potential for a further increase in the pipeline.
Under the market economic system of today, a large amount of foreign investment has flowed into Myanmar and the government has given priority to making the best use of labour resources, increasing productivity and developing job opportunities, while measures are being taken for skill development of workers compatible with modern technological advances.
Similarly, industrial zones are emerging across the country and job opportunities are available for Myanmar citizens in emerging factories, workshops and enterprises because the government is offering assistance for development of industries, manufacturing enterprises and service enterprises of local entrepreneurs as a measure to promote the private sector.
Under such circumstances, the government has amended, annulled and drafted labour laws compatible with the times for development of fair labour practices between workers and employers, aiming at socioeconomic development of all workers by enabling them to enjoy their legitimate rights and creating stable and peaceful workplaces.
Similarly, labour organizations and employer organizations have been allowed to form independently under the labour organization law enacted in 2011, and a total of 1,651 labour and employer organizations, including 1,621 labour organizations and 31 employer organizations, have been formed as of 31 March, 2015, while some labour organizations have formed federations in accordance with the law.
While more job opportunities are available due to many new factories, workshops and enterprises in Myanmar today on the one hand, on the other, disputes between workers and employers and demonstrations have inevitably arisen. Under such circumstances, there will be negative impacts on the economy of the country unless these disputes can be handled properly or can be reduced in accordance with the law, because manufacturing industries and livelihood of workers’ families will be hurt, foreign investment will be hindered and expansion plans of local entrepreneurs will be delayed.
If disputes between employers and workers are settled according to the appropriate laws and by-laws, workplaces will be peaceful without hindrances. It is necessary to settle disputes between employers and workers based on commiseration in accordance with the labour dispute settlement law and related by-laws. If they are settled in accordance with the wish of individuals neglecting the law, this will seriously hurt productivity as well as the interests of both employers and workers.
It is also necessary for employers to build peaceful, safe and healthy work environments by taking into account corporate social responsibility and promoting a system that prevents damage to the social environment, without considering only profits in running their businesses. Only then can a contribution be made to the economic development of the country through a healthy and competent labour force.
Amid changing circumstances in Myanmar, worksite safety and health play an important role. It is necessary to nurture a highly competent and healthy labour force to make the best use of increasing local and foreign investment, resulting from step-by-step and sector-wide reform measures for economic development of Myanmar, and invitation of local and foreign investment through relaxation of policies.
The workers are asking for a minimum wage to be set. It is more appropriate to reach agreement on the rate between the employers and employees in the private sector. After some disagreements on this issue, the government has formed the National Committee to facilitate setting a minimum wage and has been holding trilateral talks between the government, employers and employees.
In this measure, foreign agencies such as the International Labour Organization and the International Organization for Migration, as well as local organizations such as the Myanmar Development Resource Institute and the Myanmar Marketing Research and Development Co., Ltd, are working together to set the minimum wage.
The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security has formed groups of representatives from among employers, employees and experts in respective states and regions, and has been surveying incomes and general expenditure of living costs of households in some 108 townships under different business categories. Local officials are discussing the possible setting of minimum wages based on the survey results and advice from the labour organizations.
The negotiation process took time, as the detailed facts are needed in the calculation of the requirements of workers and their family members, current salaries, living costs, variation of these costs, commodity prices, inflation, appropriate social status and fundamental requirements.
If the minimum wage were to be set at a high level, production costs would increase. As a consequence, the workforce might be substituted with mechanical power, leading to high unemployment on one hand. On the other hand, industries would be shut down amid increasing wages. These negative impacts would hit the workforce, and high wages would become a hurdle for foreign investment.
The number of migrant workers is now increasing as the destination countries have better economic development, employment opportunities and social status. Meanwhile, international migration plays a key part in poverty alleviation and in creating opportunities for economic development of the country. Therefore, the government is taking necessary measures for Myanmar migrant workers to have labour rights in respective countries by appointing diplomats for these workers.
Moreover, supporting centres have been set up in states and regions to protect the rights of migrant workers and to give them accurate information. These centres provide 24-hour services in Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon.
These centres are helping workers fully enjoy labour rights, a peaceful working atmosphere, capacity development, safety measures, and healthcare, while helping them find local and foreign jobs which are appropriate for their skills, expertise, experiences and capacities. Employment exhibitions are also held in major cities as one-stop centres where both employers and employees can sign employment contracts.
The social welfare programme is playing a key role in enhancing the capacities and health of workers who are the driving force for economic development of the country. As the social welfare programme is important for the workers, it is a support scheme for them.
In accordance with the new Social Security Law which took effect on 1 April 2014, the insurance system for workers is part of the social security programme adopted by the government. The social welfare programme of the government will play a part in the development of social economy of the people and poverty-alleviation programmes. It will also supply all Myanmar workers with health and security measures, through the upgrading of hospitals for workers and social welfare clinics, and through cooperation with local and foreign health facilities. The programme also includes mobile clinics for work sites.
In accordance with the procedure of the International Labour Organization, the government is implementing reduction of forced labour, rural development programmes and poverty alleviation to support the reform process of the government. Formation of organizations and social dialogue is allowed. Issues concerning Myanmar migrant workers can be addressed in accordance with international practices.
The government is also combating human trafficking, promoting social welfare and fundamental social protection, reviewing and modifying outdated labour laws, setting minimum wages for safety measures of workers, compiling the list of workforce and child labour, collecting the data of fresh graduates preparing for jobs, developing the labour market, strengthening the organizations of employees and employers, developing the skills and capabilities of workers, enhancing small- and medium-sized enterprises, creating job opportunities, attracting responsible investment and improving the socio-economic lives of the workers.
On this 2015 May Day occasion, all the workers are suggested to cooperate with the government to reach the goals of these efforts.