Myanmar wants minimum wage accepted on trial basis


Plea made as hundreds march in commercial capital to demand a daily wage of at least 4,000 Kyat, roughly US$3.50.

By Joshua Carroll

YANGON, Myanmar  – Myanmar’s government has called on garment workers and factory owners to accept a proposed minimum wage on a trial basis in order to “break the deadlock between both sides over the issue,” state media reported Monday.

Aye Myint, the minister for Labour, Employment and Social Security, made the plea as hundreds of demonstrators marched in the commercial capital of Yangon Sunday to demand a daily wage of at least 4,000 Kyat, roughly US$3.50.

A National Minimum Wage Committee last month proposed daily pay of 3,600 Kyat, around $3.20, but employers say that figure as too high, and claim paying it would put them out of business.

At least 90 South Korean and Chinese factories have said they will shut down if the minimum wage is set at the proposed level.

Myanmar’s economy, crippled by decades of military rule that sparked international sanctions, has begun to boom since the junta stepped aside for a reformist regime in 2011.

As a result international brands including H&M, Gap and Adidas have began to source clothes from the factories in the country’s industrial zones, tempted by low labour costs.

But doing business in the former military dictatorship runs the risk that brands will see their reputations damaged by disputes over workers’ rights.

Gap Inc. on Monday responded to a request from a rights group about its position on the minimum wage and whether or not its Myanmar supplier was opposed to the proposed minimum wage.

“Gap Inc. partners with factory owners who share our commitment to treating garment workers with dignity and respect, and provide a safe, healthy place to work,” read the statement published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

It added: “We have been an active supporter in the establishment of a minimum wage in Myanmar. We support efforts to raise the quality of life for garment workers.”

Gap’s statement did not mention its suppliers’ position on the proposed wage, but the company said: “we encourage suppliers to pay competitive wages to their employees.”

Protests, strikes and open criticism of the government and powerful institutions have become common since restrictions of freedom of expression were eased from 2011.