ILO pushes for a more proactive UMFCCI

The local chamber of commerce should be more active in pushing the debate on developing business and economic rules, rather than reactively providing feedback when approached, said International Labour Organisation liason officer Steve Marshall.

“There are a whole host of issues that impact on the business, on the economy, on the society that to be frank at the moment … I do not know what the chamber’s position is,” he said at a July 9 conference on Strengthening Myanmar Employers Organisations held at the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).

Government rules are undergoing a drastic overhaul as parts of its reform process, though Mr Marshall said the government often is responding to outside pressures to build a policy framework.

“Policies are being developed on a somewhat ad hoc basis,” he said.

The UMFCCI can play a major role in shaping the policy for the country, but it requires being proactive and having govaernment respond, rather than waiting to be approached by government officials for input.

“It sounds like a lot of work, it sounds very frightening, but I can assure you that if you don’t do it someone else will. And the problem with that is they might not do it very well,” he said.

U Win Aun, head of UMFCCI, said the organisation is representing the interests of employers, advocating policy at a national level as well as promoting research and developing a set of best practices.

“We also aim to be the organisation that can provide advisory services at all levels and conduct professional training through the most effective means possible,” he said.

The UMFCCI and ILO signed an agreement for two projects, under the principle of developing the capacity of employer organisations in Myanmar to promote decent work principles and sustainable enterprises.

The ILO is a United Nations agency looking at labour issues, including workers rights, and also employment opportunities, enhancing social protection and building dialogue toward strong work and employment issues.

Mr Marshall said that government policy must be flexible and clear. “At the present time I will challenge most of you to tell me what the labour laws are,” he said.

Often there are two or three laws on the same thing, he said. For instance there are three minimum ages for employment in three separate pieces of legislation. Sometimes – as in the case of minimum wage – there is an absence of rules.

“The employer needs clarity,” he said. “One of our prime responsibilities is to support in terms of getting the framework in place.”

Companies operating in Myanmar often face an unclear regulatory situation, and try to operate by meeting local laws while putting in practices appropriate for the Myanmar context.

Employers and employees are also eyeing how future industrial relations will develop, he said.

Mr Marshall said both parties should work to build an environment where disputes are resolved mainly through dialogue rather than “combative industrial relations”.

Many employers are still resisting changing away from old Myanmar business models, but “the days in the company of the sayar gyi [big master] are gone,” he said. “It has to be a different environment. And at the moment I’m a little bit concerned we’re losing.”

Mr Marshall also said there is an imbalance in the number of organisations, with 25 employer organisations and about 2000 worker organisations.

Labour activists agreed there can often be a rift between employers and employees.

Ma Ei Shwezin Nyunt, an official at Labour Right Defensive and Protecter, said some employers go to third parties rather than speak directly to their employees, creating a lack of trust between them.

While there are many labour organisations, they are not as strong as the few employer organisations, she said.

“Although UMFCCI stands as the last representative of business, they rarely find activities to promote interest between employers and employees,” she said, adding employers, employees and the government all have responsibilities.

“From the employees’ side, they aren’t aware of their rights and how to tackle problems and call out for their rights under the rules and regulations,” she said.


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