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Myanmar Garment Manufacturers, Workers Square Off in Minimum Wage Negotiations

Garment manufacturers in Myanmar have completed a factory survey that they say will help decide on a new national minimum wage for workers. The results will be dispatched to the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA), which will review and tabulate results over the next month.

The poll was held in tandem with the Myanmar government’s own research across major cities in the Southeast Asian nation as it seeks to establish a new minimum wage, as the law mandates every two years.

The garment manufacturers’ survey targeted factory owners’ “performance and difficulties,” along with owner investments, number of employees, workers’ wages, holidays, and production, operating and miscellaneous costs, lead surveyor Daw Nwe Nwe Oo told the Myanmar Times.

“We collected data from 100 of the more than 160 factories,” she said. “Some have not responded yet, as their owners have not returned from the Chinese New Year holiday.”

The results will also be submitted to the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the National Minimum Wage Committee.

Daw Khine Khine Nwe, general secretary of the MGMA, told the Myanmar Times that factory owners did not conduct research or make their own proposal when the daily minimum wage was last raised in 2018 from 3,600 kyat ($2.40) to 4,800 kyat ($3.31). The survey would ensure if another “steep increase” in pay is warranted, she said.

Workers have been taking to the streets to demand an increase in the daily minimum wage to 9,800 kyat ($6.75).

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“The current rate set by the government is not enough for a family of four,” Ko Thwin Aung, chair of Myan Mhu garment workers union, told the Myanmar Times in January. “Commodity prices, as well as hostel charges, are rapidly rising up. So, we will ask for [a] reasonable wage. For a family of four, if three do not work and depend on only one, it is impossible to cope with the current rate.”

Another survey by the Yangon Region’s Minimum Wage Committee found that workers in Myanmar’s economic capital spend more than 7,000 kyat ($4.82) a day on food, accommodation and family needs.

“If we add expenses for health, transportation and miscellaneous, the amount rises to over 7,000 kyat,” U Tun Wai, the committee’s labor representative, told the Myanmar Times on Thursday.

Myanmar is one of the world’s fastest-growing garment, footwear and travel-goods suppliers, with clothing exports reaching $3.86 billion in 2018. It employs more than 1.1 million people in clothing, footwear and accessory factories. Research commissioned by the C&A Foundation in 2017 predicted that the sector could hire more than 1.5 million people by 2020.