Representatives of the Myanmar government, employers, workers, civil society and international partners gathered for the third time since 2015, in a forum to discuss progress and challenges in labour market reforms as part of the ‘Initiative to Promote Fundamental Labour Rights and Practices’ in Myanmar. The forum kicked off in Nay Pyi Taw on 17 January, hosted by the Government of Myanmar and funded by the European Union.
Myanmar Union Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population, U Thein Swe, opened the two-day Forum reaffirming the commitment of the Union Government to reforming Myanmar’s labour laws and strengthening social dialogue with employers’ and workers’ organizations.
“I strongly believe that the Labour Market Governance can become more systematic and can establish an Active Labour Market as the labour law reform is accelerated. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all initiative partners, development partners and all stakeholders involved in labour sectors, for their good efforts, cooperation and contribution”, said Union Minister U Thein Swe.
EU Ambassador to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt, speaking at the Forum on behalf of the Initiative partners: Denmark, the European Union, Japan, the United States, and the ILO, stressed that – to be sustainable - economic growth must go hand in hand with social justice, respect for human rights, and the protection of the environment.
"As international partners in the Labour Initiative we therefore encourage constant dialogue among government, trade unions, employers, businesses and civil society to ensure everybody is on the same page when it comes to setting new standards for Myanmar's labour market," said Ambassador Schmidt. "Only if your workforce is treated fairly, they will be able and willing to contribute to an economic development that will last."
“The road to labour reform is never smooth. For every step forward, there will be frustrations and disappointments as well. But we should remain true to our conviction that genuine and meaningful tripartite social dialogue is the best route to social justice. Not long ago, such exchanges were unthinkable, and it is impressive to see the growing confidence and engagement of the social partners”, said Greg Vines, ILO Deputy Director-General, while concluding the opening session of the Forum.
The Forum will highlight how good labour market governance and industrial relations can help to facilitate job creation, reduce poverty and inequality, and contribute to sustainable development. As Myanmar’s economy opens, effective labour laws are essential to creating a positive environment for responsible business and investment.
Participants in the 2018 Stakeholder Forum also exchanged views on the main remaining challenges in reforming the labour law. They also discussed the importance of social dialogue and collective bargaining as a way to improve productivity, as well as for preventing and resolving disputes at the workplace. Speakers expressed hoped that Myanmar’s agreements with ILO on Forced Labour will also be renewed.
Since the last Stakeholder Forum of 2016, progress has been made around labour law reform with a package of proposals for amendments to key laws now ready to be presented to Parliament. These include ongoing dialogue on the amendment of the Labour Organization Law, and the Dispute Settlement Law. Government, employers and workers representatives also jointly reviewed the employment contract template applying to all employers and workers, and are working together to review the current minimum wage.
“Sound industrial relations, genuine social dialogue and collective bargaining are vital to achieve sustainable economic growth in Myanmar” said U Maung Maung from the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM). “They are the only time- tested means for growing a country’s wealth, sharing it and spreading it”.
“Both workers and employers deserve a labour market that is fair and predictable. A well-developed labour law is a key element in creating this environment. However, laws alone are not enough. Implementation of the legal framework is also essential, and in this area the private sector believes there is significant room for improvement”, stressed Daw Khine Khine Nwe from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).
The Stakeholder Forum will conclude on 18 January with the presentation of a Roadmap for further priorities in labour market reform, to be achieved by the NTDF in 2018.