Promoting workplace social dialogue with union representation in Myanmar
Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA works with Action Labor Rights (ALR) on the Decent Work for Working People Project. Action Labor Rights is a workers’ rights organisation focusing on organising workers mostly from garment and textile industries. In 2018, ALR helped establish workplace level unions at 29 factories with at least 11000 workers joining the unions.
ALR Training for Unions Representatives in the Workplace Coordination Committee (WCC)
With support from Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, Action Labor Rights (ALR) had successfully organised and provided numerous capacity building trainings for trade union representatives in the Workplace Coordination Committee (WCC). The Workplace Coordination Committee (WCC) is still a contested issue in Myanmar. The Settlement Dispute Labour Law (SDLL) does not provide a clear account on the mechanism for electing bargaining representatives. Article 8 of the SDLL suggests that the employers could negotiate with “elected representatives” and trade union representatives at the same time. It is not clear how the “elected representatives” would be formed and considered as a negotiation partner especially in cases where a workplace-level trade union is present. The rigidity of union registration and other requirements regarding union structure and membership are still a major concern. At unorganised factories, employers appoint security and human resources staff as worker representatives. Workers’ rights organisations and unions argue that at factories with unions, the unions had to take up some action to ensure that their representatives would be on the WCC.
On January 12 2019, the Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population issued a special order stipulating that the WCC is compulsory. Any arising dispute must be first resolved at the WCC. The cases could only be mediated and/or resolved at the township conciliation body (TCB) depending on the output of the settlement process at the WCC level.
ALR understands that the role of the WCC is important as a social dialogue mechanism at the workplace level. ALR conducted training for trade unions in ensuring their representation in the WCC to avert the co-optation of the employers. The training focused on ensuring the workers represented in the WCC were from the union and elected by the majority of the workers. This means that arising disputes can be settled at the workplace level. At present, 16 out of 29 workplace level unions organised by the ALR have representation in the WCC.
Social dialogue and genuine union representation to improve working conditions
ALR’s training for union representatives in the WCC is beneficial in improving the working conditions of all workers. Since the role of the WCC is to perform advocacy for daily workplace disputes, the unions are able to recruit more workers and gain more trust from their members.
Through training in the second half of 2018, ALR assisted the formation of WCC with genuine representation of the unions based at Hason Garment, Kyar Lay Garment and Shwe Nagar Fertilizer factories. With active representation of unions, the workers are able to access the dispute settlement process efficiently. ALR has taken initiative pushing for social dialogue with employers from VIP Garment, Textile Handiwork Garment and Running Myanmar factories. As a result, the companies now allow ALR to provide training for setting up WCC with union representation at their respective factories.
By promoting workplace social dialogue culture through union representatives in the WCC, the workers are also able to access the grievance mechanism and ensure the companies’ compliance with the regulatory framework. At least at two factories, Hanson and VIP, thanks to series of dialogue and negotiations, the union representatives at the WCC are not obliged to meet the production target and are given sufficient time to deal with the grievances addressed by the workers. At those two factories, the unions have successfully participated in deciding a daily production target.
Action Labour Rights is aware that at present this workplace social dialogue could serve as one of the workers’ bargaining tools to ensure workers’ rights are protected. Furthermore, ALR’s training for union representatives in the WCC has built the capacity of union leaders in negotiating for better working conditions. This is part of a long-term process of unions’ participation in shaping the trajectory toward collective bargaining mechanism which is still absent from the regulatory framework in Myanmar.