Danish Ambassador discusses joint Myanmar-Denmark worker health and safety programme


Danish Ambassador Peter Lysholt Hansen. Photo: Hong Sar/Mizzima

Denmark has a proven track-record of successfully combining economic growth, high employment and social security and so it is fitting that there government is pursuing an initiative help Myanmar with its efforts to improve workplace health and safety.

On April 21, U Thein Swe, Union Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar welcomed Mr. Peter Lysholt Hansen, the Ambassador of Denmark to Myanmar, in order to discuss future cooperation on labour market issues.

Following the meeting, the Union Minister and the Danish Ambassador announced that Myanmar and Denmark will cooperate on an initiative aimed at ensuring safe and healthy work places and improved social dialogue in Myanmar.

In the following interview with Mizzima, the Danish Ambassador explains the importance of the programme and why his government is involved.

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 workplace? How long has this been running and what are the objectives?

The overall goal of the new initiative is to contribute to the development of safer and healthier working conditions and improvement of social dialogue in Myanmar through the strengthening of labour market institutions. 

More specifically, the Danish support consists of capacity building activities in two areas. The first of these is the area of occupational safety and health where experts from the Danish Working Environment Agency (which is the Danish government institution responsible for occupational safety and health in Denmark) will be providing advice and technical training on occupational safety and health to the staff at the Factories and General Labour Laws Inspection Department (FGLLID, department under the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population). 

Basically, this is about the workers of Myanmar being able to go to work without getting sick, injured – or even dying.

The second area of focus will be capacity building of representatives of the social partners in Myanmar (workers’ and employers’ organizations). This training is planned to be carried out by representatives from Danish workers’ and employers’ organisations (peer-to-peer training). 

Generally the activities are scheduled to be launched around the beginning of September. However, two weeks of pilot trainings for staff at the FGLLID have already been carried out in September and October of 2015.

What do you see as the challenges to improving workplace safety and health in Myanmar? 

The good news is that there is a strong commitment and eagerness to improve the situation amongst the relevant Myanmar authorities. At the same time, workers are increasingly getting aware of their right to safe and healthy working conditions, and employers are starting to realize that good working conditions can both  increase productivity, as well as that it might be a prerequisite for securing orders from large international companies, e.g. in the garment industry.

It is also helpful that the number of inspectors at the FGLLID has increased, and that a new draft law on Occupational Safety and Health is awaiting parliamentary scrutiny. It goes without saying that the situation will not change overnight, but against this background there really is reason to be optimistic.

What is the message your embassy is receiving from Myanmar's new government on this issue?

It is very positive. I met with U Thein Swe, Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population on 21 April. From this meeting it was very clear that the government prioritizes improving the situation of the workers in Myanmar and reforming the labour market in order to foster sustainable economic growth, which will be crucial in facilitating Myanmar’s reintegration into the World economy.

Are the existing workplace laws adequate? Are there plans to change the laws?

As I stated earlier, it is extremely positive that there is strong commitment to labour market reform, because the task that lies ahead is considerable. Positive changes have taken place in the legal framework within recent years. However, attention has to be paid to whether these legal changes bring about the desired results in practice or not, and further legal reforms are necessary too. While legal reforms are a prerequisite for a modern and well-functioning system of labour market governance, it’s no quick fix, though. The capacity of the institutions responsible for implementing and enforcing the new laws will have to be increased too. 

In the same vein, it will be equally important to ensure that the legislative process is undertaken in a consultative manner and to further build the capacity of labour market actors so that they are capable of engaging effectively in social dialogue, which is in its very early stages in Myanmar. This is the rationale behind the Danish support.

Concrete steps have already been taken in planning further legislative reform. On November 14, 2015, together with Myanmar, Denmark, the United States, Japan, and the ILO launched the Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labour Rights and Practices in Myanmar, which is intended to help modernize Myanmar’s labour legislation, improve compliance with international labour standards, and foster a robust dialogue between the government, business, labour and civil society.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The importance of well-functioning social dialogue – understood as negotiation, consultation or simply an exchange of information and views between representatives of employers, workers and governments – really should not be underestimated. 

Take the Danish example. Denmark has a proven track-record of successfully combining economic growth, high employment and social security. This success is frequently attributed in large part to the particular institutional setup of Danish labour market governance – which is characterized by a strong cooperative spirit amongst the government, trade unions and the employers’ organizations.

The Danish system was established as far back as in 1899 when a major industrial dispute ended. The dispute ended only as the social partners recognised each other and made an agreement about the rules on the labour market. A revised version of this agreement is still valid today.

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