Myanmar is high on the list of priorities for Denmark when it comes to the labour market. This was the message from Danish Employment Minister Jorn Neergaard Larsen on his recent visit.
The Danish government’s development assistance to Myanmar is a top priority for the Danish International Development Agency and it has focused on promoting Myanmar’s democratic transformation and human rights. Moreover, the Danish government has been concerned about doing what it can to advise regarding improving Myanmar workers’ rights and the ongoing reform of the labour market.
Danish Employment Minister Mr Larsen visited Myanmar September 27-30 to look into Danish projects on occupational safety and health and social dialogue, and to launch a capacity building programme aimed at improving social dialogue.
On his visit, Mizzima arranged for an exclusive interview with the minister conducted by reporter Aung Thu Ra.
Aung Thu Ra: Denmark has a long history of relations with Myanmar dating back to 1955 and more recently has been focused on human rights and the rule of law. Can you tell us about your programme to improve workers’ rights here?
Minister: First of all, it has really been a pleasure for me to visit your very very beautiful country, that’s one thing. Another thing, Myanmar has a high priority in Denmark for supporting developing countries and when we are talking about supporting Myanmar, we have an agreement between Myanmar and Denmark to support the development of your labour market. And here, we have afocus on the social dialogue, that’s one thing, and another thing we have focused on occupational health and safety.
Please could you tell us about the initiative being pursued by the Danish government to work with Myanmar to help improve the safety and health of workers in their workplaces?
We have two running programmes. One programme will assist the representatives of the government of Myanmar and the social partners in Myanmar in developing the social dialogue. And another programme is to train inspectors…to control safety and health in the labour market here.
How long has this been running and what are the objectives?
I think,now, we are in our second year.And we have a programme running for four to five years.
Denmark has a developed labour market and collective agreements between trade unions and employers’ organizations referred to as the “Danish Model”. How does the Danish Model work?
First of all I think it is a question about securing relations between the regulations and the reality.And here, we have experienced in Denmark the social dialogue, the dialogue between the employers and the employees, the dialogue between the government and the social partners can be very very constructive in securing or ensuring a development of the labour market corresponding to the wishes of the law or regulations for the labour market. So, I think (the Danish Model) is way to develop the labour market in a constructive way in such a situation that you are developing good relations between the partners, developing higher productivity, sustainability and things like that.
How do you view the Myanmar government efforts to improve the labour situation in Myanmar?
First of all, it has been a pleasure for me to notice how high a priority the government and the parliament has been giving the development of your labour market. And it has been a pleasure too to notice your work with new labour laws in such a way that you get a corresponding between the ILO recommendations and the national labour law here. So I think that we are in a position where the direction in the development of the labour market is very very positive, and it has been a pleasure for me to notice the growth rate here in Myanmar. It’s obvious there are a lot of challenges in front of all of us. Here in Myanmar you have some. In Denmark we have others. But I think that the direction is very very positive. And it has been a pleasure again to notice the constructive way I have seen the cooperation here between the government, the employers’ organization, and the unions.
How can we in Myanmar copy the Danish Model?
First of all, I do not think that it is possible to copy a model from one country to another country.I think it has something to do with being able to inspire each other. And, as I mentioned, in Denmark we have very positive experience based on the social dialogue, based on high standards for working environment. I think that these things could be a good foundation for faster development of the labour market in Myanmar.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met the Danish prime minister on her UK and US trip. Do you know what they discussed?
I understand that our prime minister at this top-level meeting discussed the priorities for the cooperation between Denmark and Myanmar for the coming years. This will focus on certain businesses, fisheries, the peace process, and the support from the Danish side to Myanmar.
What is the message from your government for Myanmar’s new government on this issue of workers rights?
First of all, we have given Myanmar a high priority when we are looking at supporting developing countries. And there is a large focus from Danish industries on cooperation, collaboration with the industries here in Myanmar, and we want to support a constructive development of your industries and of your labour market.
What are you telling Danish investors who are interested in coming to Myanmar?
Well, that is to be aware of the large possibilities in this new democracy. I have experience here, there is a very constructive focus on development, you have demonstrated high growth rates and a very constructive altitude to developing social dialogue and working conditions, and that is a good foundation for efficient industries.
The NLD’s core commitments are to lift the living standards of our people and expand opportunities. What are the challenges the government faces?
It has been good for me to notice how high is the priority of the government and the parliament of Myanmar that has been given to the development of the labour market. And it has been encouraging to notice your work with new labour law in such a way that it corresponds with the ILO’s recommendations and the international labour law here.So, I think that the direction of the development of the labour market in Myanmar is very positive. The growth rate of Myanmar is obvious. …I have seen the cooperation between the government and the employees and the unions.
Are the existing workplace laws adequate? Are there plans to change the laws?
I have understood that you have an ongoing law changing process right now in Myanmar in such a way that your labour law will correspond and have recommendations from the ILO. That is positive.
I think you had heard of labour conflicts in Myanmar. They have been fighting for workers’ right and wages and salaries. And there are weak points, notably a lack of negotiation and dialogue. How crucial is dialogue as a tool?
That is why we have given social dialogue priority in the developing of the labour market in Myanmar. If it is possible to develop a structure for a constructive dialogue between employers and employees,the employers’ organization and the unions and between the unions and the employers’ organizations and the government, you are able to develop a very very efficient labour market, with fewer conflicts than you are noticing from other labour markets. So here I am sure the cooperation between Myanmar and Denmark is an option to developing a well-functioning labour market here.
How do you view of the future relationship of Denmark and Myanmar; government to government, people to people, business to business?
We are ready to support the government of Myanmar. We are developing the projects here, so we agree on them between Myanmar and Denmark. Right now, there is a high priority for developing working conditions, the social dialogue and the support programmes for the peace process and the other things that we negotiate between two governments.So,we are ready to continue the constructive cooperation between the two countries.