“We found out that they are working too many hours. Some have to work about 70 hours a week. This severely affects their health and family life,” said Daisy Gardener, Oxfam’s private sector policy adviser.
They usually earn an average of less than US$100 (Ks 122,000) a month, including overtime fees and bonuses. Many have to work about 11 hours a day, six days a week. Yet, 75 per cent of the workers are unable to cover the cost of basic needs like food, medicine and transport.
“It is very heartrending to learn that almost half of the workers are in debt. They had to borrow money to pay for basic household items. They have to spend more than half of their base salary on accommodation alone. Almost 90 percent of workers are not able to save any of their income,” she said.
The organization, which has been working in Myanmar since 2008, launched a briefing paper last week entitled “Made in Myanmar: Entrenched poverty or decent jobs for garment workers?” It was based on research by Oxfam, the Cooperative Committee of Trade Unions, 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, Action Labour Rights, and Labour Rights Defenders & Promoters (LRDP). Some 123 workers from 22 factories in six industrial zones in Yangon - Dagon Seikkan, Shwe Lin Pan, Mingalardon, Bago, Thilawa, and Hlaing Tharyar – were interviewed. Nearly 90 per cent of respondents were female with an average age of 23 years.
Dangers in the workplace
Gardener added that safety was a very big concern for the workers, aside from wages, working hours, and supervisor’s treatment. She said 43 per cent of the respondents did not feel safe. Almost one in four reported forced overtime and several reported unpaid overtime. Nearly 31 per cent said they had experienced verbal abuse, yelling, and intimidation by supervisors or management. Over one third reported injuries.
According to Eai Shwe Sinn Nyunt, LRDP’s general secretary and National League for Democracy’s Central Labour Affairs Committee, after the minimum wage was set, some factories cancelled transportation for workers. This was a burden, particularly to those working until 10pm, after which few buses operate. Female workers were fearful of sexual abuse.
“Many said they are afraid of factory fires, that building exits were often blocked or even locked. Workers also faced wage deductions and even dismissal if they took sick leave and many told us they could not even use the toilet whilst working a shift. These conditions were completely unacceptable for a 21st century garment industry,” said Paul Joicey, Oxfam’s country director.
As global companies start sourcing garments from Myanmar, the report urged the companies to ensure workers were free to negotiate wage through trade unions, have access to regular safety training and effective grievance processes to raise safety concerns. Oxfam called for greater transparency and monitoring of the industry.
“Currently, many overseas companies are secretive about the locations of supplier factories. This means it is not possible to independently monitor workers’ conditions. We are calling on all international companies sourcing from Myanmar to follow the lead of H&M and Adidas by publishing the locations of supplier factories as a first easy step towards more ethical sourcing,” said Joicey.
The companies were also urged to publish locations of their suppliers. The suppliers should also be punished if they did not follow international labour standards.
The report also recommended better worker access to paid medical leave, drinking water and in-factory medical personnel; training on safety and labour rights; effective grievance mechanisms so that workers could raise concerns; and recognition of independent labour unions to engage freely in collective bargaining.