Friday, 31 August 2012

Leader of the country’s trade union movement?

The ITUC reports on FTUB's Maung Maung being allowed back into Myanmar. In reference to Maung Maung's self-appointed role as head of FTUB, the ITUC refers to him as the "leader of the country's trade union movement". The report adds that "having Maung Maung inside the country with his union colleagues will help the union movement to grow and play its role to the fullest." Hmmm...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Mine workers form union in Burma

Australia's ABC Radio has an interview with Ross Wilson, the Chief Technical Advisor for the Freedom of Association Project about the formation of a new union by a group of 4,000 gold miners.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Corporate social responsibility in Myanmar?

An article by Ethical Corporation:
Though official statistics do not always match with media reports, there are three special economic zones in Burma and 18 industrial zones. Most public sources agree there are nearly 300 garment factories and as many as 100,000 workers in that sector alone... As one Japanese bank staffer puts it: “Labour costs are cheap and people are hardworking, but its social infrastructure is extremely poor.” ... Social auditors visiting factories in the last few years have similar stories. “One factory was not cooperative at all – when we uncovered a report of physical abuse, the audit was aborted and we were kicked out,” says Jeraporn Rothorn, an auditor. Other auditors indicate that workers were afraid to speak with their employers about labour issues and, at the time, were not allowed to have trade unions in the workplace. While the trade union laws are changing, along with many other things in Burma, it may take time for labour practices to improve. Companies rushing from China or the labour unrest in Bangladesh may find a new set of challenges awaiting in Burma.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

On foreign investment and economic change...

A series of articles have recently come out commenting on foreign investment and economic change (real and potential):

The Wall Street Journal, "Myanmar’s Growing, but Has a Long Way to Go," 20 August, 2012
  • Myanmar’s economy will grow by about 6.0% in 2012 and 6.3% in 2013
  • Myanmar could grow at 7%-8% per year for a decade or more
  • it could take years if not decades for it to start catching up to many of its regional peers
  • Only about 26% of Myanmar’s population had access to electricity in 2011
  • Only 1.26 people out of every 100 in Myanmar have fixed telephone lines
  • Agriculture accounted for 35% of Myanmar’s gross domestic product in 1965; in 2010, it was 36%
  • Myanmar's per capita income in 1960 was about $670, more than three times that of Indonesia and more than twice that of Thailand. By 2010 it had the lowest GDP per capita in Southeast Asia, at about $1,300 on a purchasing power parity basis.
Asia Times Online, "Rocky road to World Bank re-engagement," 22 August, 2012
At the beginning of August, the World Bank, along with the Asian Development Bank, reopened offices in Yangon... This marks the first formal engagement between the World Bank and Myanmar... in 25 years, as well as the first ever entry of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group's private-sector arm.... But the move comes following urging by local and international NGOs and amidst ongoing complaints that the bank has not engaged in adequate consultation with local communities... To date, local organizations and communities have felt the World Bank's approach is non-inclusive, sparse on details, lacks transparency and, most worrisome, does not solicit input from the organizations and communities most affected by conflict and development to inform their decision-making process... Perhaps the most contentious section of the ISN will be the bank's plan to "support the peace process in border areas through community-driven development programs to promote the recovery of conflict-affected communities... While a focus on these communities is undeniably critical, their engagement is also the most complicated. It is here that locals are most marginalized from the reforms process in Myanmar, most alienated from the state and most suspicious of "development", often seeing such projects as thinly veiled attempts to take over their resource-rich lands.
Voice of America, "Economists Warn Burma Against Breaks For Foreign Investors," 21 August, 2012
Burma is drafting a foreign investment law to usher in a flood of foreign capital aimed at helping the country emerge from decades of poverty and isolation. But, economists warn the law, as drafted, has problems. Burma’s reformist government hopes the new law will diversify and increase foreign investment, partly by offering several years tax-free. But economists including Turnell say a tax holiday is an unnatural competitive advantage over local entrepreneurs.... Economists say one of the bigger challenges for investors in Burma is getting access to credit to build a business. Some farmers turn to loan sharks, paying as much as 10 per cent a month, and falling into deep debt.
Forbes, "Myanmar Opens Up, Slowly," 21 August, 2012
For U.S. and Asian companies, Myanmar is still in its “look-see” phase. Some, like Visa, are now dipping in, watching carefully to see if and how the nation unfolds its authoritarian grip.

Land Rights Activist Hit with Court Summons

A nice quote in The Irrawaddy from land rights activist Nay Moe Wai after being summoned to appear in a Rangoon Division court to answer defamation charges filed by a Burmese company he accused of illegal land grabs:
“I just pointed out that what [Zay Kabar] did is illegal,” Nay Myo Wai explained. “I have already told them that if they want the land, negotiate with the farmers first. Give them proper compensation for their land. That’s all. I don’t broker price negotiations for them. It’s a do-it-yourself approach.” ... Nay Myo Wai considers the lawsuit a struggle between two classes—the corrupt fat cats in power versus the farmer underdogs. “The peasants are only asking for what they deserve and the other party retaliates with a lawsuit,” he said. “If the company goes into partnership with farmers, it won’t happen. A wealthy person by no means has the right to kick out poor farmers simply as he wants their land for his own interests.”

Indonesian killed after argument with Myanmar workmates

According to the New Straits Times:
An Indonesian factory worker was found beaten to death, following an argument with three Myanmar workmates at a shop in Jalan Permatang Rawa [Singapore] yesterday. The victim was identified as Purawadi, 24, who had a permit to work at the onion processing factory where he was employed for nine months... Purawadi's assailants were armed with an iron pipe, knife and wood when they confronted him. He said the victim was earlier, drinking at the shop with three Myanmar workmates before a quarrel broke out. He said Purawadi fled from the shop before he was attacked in his room at a workers' quarters, about 80 metres away.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Committee to review Myanmar-Thai labour MoU

The Myanmar Times reports:
A BODY will be formed to review a memorandum of understanding on labour hiring, which was signed by Myanmar and Thailand in 2003. The decision was made during a workshop conducted by the Overseas Employment Supervision Committee and the Administration Programme and Workers Protection and Care Committee in Yangon on July 21. Workshop delegates included the deputy minister for labour, government officials, NGOs and overseas employment agencies. In addition to reviewing the agreement, other points of discussion included sending workers to Thailand and issuing visas and passports to the spouses and children of migrant workers.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Labour activist arrested in Mandalay after protest

DVB article on the recent arrest of labour activist Aye Thein.
Police detained labour activist Aye Thein who was assisting vendors that were protesting potential relocation in Mandalay’s Kidan Market yesterday. About 100 vendors protested in front of a municipal administration building before Aye Thein was arrested... The activist’s family was told that the police were holding Aye Thein, but they were unclear on what he was being charged with.

Burmese gov’t to offer migrants chance to return home

Mizzima article about Myanmar government plans to issue identity paper to, and financially assist, migrants in Thailand to return home to Myanmar.
Around 150,000 Burmese refugees and migrants now living in Thailand will be given government aid to voluntarily return to their country, officials of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Resettlement said... A certificate of identity would be issued to any Burmese migrant worker in Thailand who wants to return home for good, said the report, excluding law breakers who would have to face the charges against them.

Children of Migrants to Get Burmese IDs

An Irrawaddy article on the issuing of Myanmar birth certificates to children of migrants born in Thailand:
Peace negotiators claim that birth certificate will soon be provided to the Thailand-born children of Burmese migrants after a second successful meeting with Dr. Cynthia Maung at Mae Tao Clinic, in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, on Sunday... According to the Committee for the Promotion and Protection of Child Rights, there were 20,661 children registered at Mae Tao Clinic between 2003 and 2011, while “tens of thousands more may be left behind due to a lack of knowledge among the migrant workers and the barriers of travelling without legal documents,” said General-Secretary Naing Min.

ILO meets factory owner over firings

Myanmar Times article on an ILO meeting with a factory owner to follow up case of firing of labour organisers.
On July 10, some workers from the factory, which employs more than 2000 people, gathered to form a labour organisation. The next day the factory dismissed nine workers who had taken up executive committee posts in the organisation, The Voice reported on July 30. The journal said the Yangon Region arbitration body had upheld the sackings because it found the workers had conducted activities “that can hurt the peaceful situation at the working environment, [including] holding meetings, protesting, inciting workers who are working peacefully, intentionally destroying the situation at the workplace, and causing delays in the work of others”, as their employer alleged. “I didn’t do anything to cause ‘unrest’ at the workplace,” U Kyaw Min Htwe, one of the dismissed workers, was quoted as saying.

Myanmar's Workers Exercise Rights To Organize

America's NPR provides as audio report on the recent strike wave in Myanmar. Among there interesting bits of information is this quote:
"State media reported that as of May [2012] more than 36,000 workers from 57 factories, mostly in the Yangon area, had gone on strike."

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Deepening the social gulf between rich and poor?

The World Socialist Website weighs in on investment in Myanmar.
Far from ending this social crisis, an influx of Western investment to exploit Burma’s cheap labour will deepen the social gulf between rich and poor. Moreover, like every other country in the region, Burma is being drawn into the deepening rivalry between the US and China that threatens to lead to destabilising conflicts and war.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Worker Strike Probe Shot Down by MPs

The Irrawaddy reports that a bill to establish a committee to prob the recent strike wave in Myanmar has been rejected in parliament.
A proposal to form a committee to investigate worker strikes, which took place in Rangoon factories to demand wages hikes over the past year, was rejected by Burma’s Lower House of Parliament after a vote on Wednesday. Speaking to The Irrawaddy after the decision, Thein Nyunt, a Lower House MP for the New Democracy Party, said he proposed forming the new committee in order to keep tabs on the current political and economic situation... [South Oakkalapa MP Aung Thein Lin] explained that 90 factories, mostly in Rangoon, went on strike in May and June but all are now back on track after officials helped in negotiations between the employers and employees. In June, the Ministry of Labor imposed a minimum wage for workers, Aung Thein Lin added, and more than 100 worker associations have been formed in accordance with the new Labor Association law and bylaws. Meanwhile, the Minimum Wage Bill is due to be discussed in Parliament this month.