Sunday, 7 August 2016

Labour law reform in "democractic" Myanmar

The government has largely put labour reform on the backburner at a time when worker rights advocates say there’s an urgent need to improve dispute settlement procedures. THE first crackdown on protesting workers under the National League for Democracy government occurred less than two months after it assumed power.
On May 18, plywood factory workers and their supporters marching to Nay Pyi Taw from Sagaing Region were dispersed on the outskirts of the capital on May 18. About 70 protesters were detained and 15 remain in detention, including six workers... The government’s response shocked many observers. But Ko Aung Thu Yein Tun, who heads the Yangon-based Nay Thu Yein law firm and is representing the six workers, said it was an accurate reflection of labour rights in Myanmar, which have changed little under the new government... “There have been more than 10 disputes in the Shwepyithar industrial zone alone since the new government came to power,” said Naing Htay Lwin. He and his former colleagues from the Ford Glory factory, site of a big sit-in protest last year that resulted in their dismissal, have formed a group called “Yaung Chi Oo” (Light of the Dawn), to help workers involved in labour disputes... Ko Thurain Aung, the director of advocacy group Action Labor Rights, said the new government needed to focus on improving the legal framework and strengthening enforcement. “There are some labour laws that have to be amended by the new government because, as is well known, there are some [economic] sectors that abuse labour rights. I don’t know why the amendments have not yet been made,” he said. He cited a number of weaknesses in the Labour Organization Law, which enables workers to form what are essentially unions. A labour organisation can be formed in a workplace if at least 10 percent of the workers there agree. He said this low threshold had led to a proliferation of organisations, even within a single workplace. In some cases, factory owners also encourage friendly workers to form labour organisations, which they then favour over other, competing groups. But worker rights groups say the law most urgently in need of change is the Settlement of Labour Disputes Law. The law mandates the creation of dispute settlement bodies at the township, district, state and region, and union level, comprising representatives appointed by workers, employers and the ministry. When employers and workers are unable to resolve a dispute through mediation, they submit a case for arbitration. But employers have regularly defied arbitration rulings, particularly those ordering them to rehire sacked workers, in which case the only legal remedy is a fine. Worker rights advocates have previously urged the introduction of prison terms for non-compliance, but amendments to the law in 2014 only increased the maximum fine. Aung Thu Yein Tun said the inability to enforce decisions by arbitration councils against errant employers had destroyed workers’ trust in the process for resolving disputes. “The workers go for legal process but when the government fails to enforce the decisions after the process, even if the workers win … why should they put their faith in the legal process any more?” he said. Thurain Aung said the law’s provisions also mean that workers cannot directly file a complaint against an employer to police. Instead, it is the responsibility of the arbitration councils formed up the law. “This means they have lost their rights,” he said. Legal reform uncertain. U Nyunt Win, the deputy director general of the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, told Frontier there was no immediate plan to amend the labour laws enacted during the former government’s term. He said this was because no civil society groups or other stakeholders had requested changes to the laws, which include not only the Labour Organization Law and the Settlement of Labour Disputes Law, but also the Social Security Law and the Minimum Wage Law. “Our ministry has always listened to the voice from outside and we are working very closely with International Labor Organization, but there has been no advice … that the laws have to be amended,” Nyunt Win said. Instead, the ministry is focusing on new legislation, including a workplace safety and hygiene law and a foreign workers’ law, he added. But activists said it was a case of the bureaucracy being unwilling to cooperate with them on changes to the law. “Government officials favour the big unions and the small unions are gradually losing their voice,” said Ko Naing Zaw Kyi Win, an activist...

"Labour reform in limbo," Frontier Myanmar, 5 August 2016.

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