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Two international labour watchdogs simultaneously released statements on Wednesday, pledging support for the Burmese government’s proposed minimum wage of 3,600 kyat (US$3) per day.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) claim to have the backing of 17 major international manufacturers, including sportswear giant Adidas, clothing retailer Gap Inc, as well as Tesco, H&M and Patagonia.
In separate letters to Burma’s Ministry of Labour, the ETI and FLA urged the government to resist a request for an exemption to the minimum wage from the country’s garment manufacturers.
“FLA affiliates commit to a standard of fair compensation that is incompatible with the proposal to exempt garment workers from the country-wide minimum wage,” said Jason Judd, FLA’s vice president of programs.
In its 15 July statement, ETI said, “ETI and its members support international calls for Myanmar’s new minimum wage to be applied countrywide. We have articulated this stance in a letter to the Myanmar government, urging it to resist the request for an exemption from the country’s garment manufacturers.”
It added: “We wish to counter the claims of Myanmar’s garment manufacturers and employers associations that higher wages will dissuade foreign investors. A minimum wage that has been negotiated by all parties will attract rather than deter international companies from buying garments from Myanmar, particularly companies such as ETI members that have committed to upholding international labour rights standards in their global supply chains.”
Earlier this month, the All-Myanmar Network of Trade Unions rejected the offer of a 3,600-kyat daily wage and called on workers to be prepared to take to the streets in protest. A day earlier the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) had announced its support for the proposal. Both represent thousands of factory workers in the burgeoning garment sector, which is mostly built in the outlying areas of Rangoon.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA), which represents factory owners, threatened to close down factories if the proposed 3,600 kyat per day minimum wage is approved by the Burmese government.
Speaking to DVB on 3 July, MGMA Secretary Khin Khin Nwe said, “We already promised to honour a minimum wage of 2,500 kyat.”
The garment factory owners say the NCMW proposal is “unaffordable” and will put some 200,000 factory jobs at risk.
In late June, around 30 Chinese and 60 South Korean-operated factories said they would shut down operations if the minimum wage of 3,600 kyat (US$3.00) per day proposed by the government-led National Committee for Minimum Wage is approved.
READ more background: Wage War
Watch VDO: Rangoon garment factory workers protest