Industrial Relations and Labour Policy Seminar in Myanmar

JILAF, together with the Federation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (FTUM), held an industrial relations and labour policy seminar at the Hlaingthaya industrial estate in Yangon, Myanmar, on November 26 (Wednesday) and 27 (Thursday), 2014. The seminar was attended by a total of 63 people (40 trade union leaders from the FTUM, 12 officials from Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Employment, and Social Security, and, from the management side, 11 representatives from the Hlaingthaya industrial estate employers’ committee). The participants were therefore able to share information relating to issues both between labour and management and between labour and the government. This was the second such seminar to be held in Myanmar following the first in January.
At the opening ceremony, addresses were given on behalf of the organizers by FTUM General Secretary Maung Maung and JILAF Field Project Group Leader Hitoshi Suzuki and also by guests Mr. Saw Naing, assistant director of the Department of Labour at Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Employment, and Social Security; Minister-Counselor Ichiro Maruyama of the Japanese Embassy in Myanmar; Mr. Kyaw Lwin, chair of the Hlaingthaya industrial estate employers’ committee; and Director Shigeru Nakajima of the Yangon Office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). FTUM General Secretary Maung Maung expressed gratitude to JILAF and the Japanese government and spoke about efforts to promote labour-management dialogue and improve labour legislation with the aim of enhancing the livelihoods of workers in Myanmar.
Talks were then given by representatives of the labour administration and employers. First of all, Assistant Director Mr. Saw Naing explained the role of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, and Social Security in settling industrial disputes. He remarked that government-labour-management relations were beginning to function in recent years, as a result of which most industrial disputes were being settled. He added that when disputes do occur, the problem should be solved at the workplace level through a workplace mediation committee and that the cooperation of the trade union is essential for this purpose.
In addition, Dr. Min Min, representative of Top Banner Co. Ltd. a sewing company that exports many products to the Japanese market, spoke about industrial relations in his company. “When our company was established, labour and management were hostile to each other,” he said, “but things changed with the formation of a trade union. These days it is a great help that the union acts as a representative and makes well-thought-out requests to the management side. In order to settle useless industrial disputes, it is necessary both for management to understand the situation on the shop floor and for workers to understand the severe circumstances of the company.” He emphasized that the establishment of industrial relations is especially important in the local apparel industry, where cases of bankruptcy and the termination of operations are occurring as a result of export competition.
From the trade union side, FTUM Vice-President Ronnie Than Lwin then delivered a keynote speech, giving an overview of the FTUM organization and noting that although the FTUM consisted mainly of agricultural-sector union members, the number of unions was steadily increasing in other sectors as well. “We have much to learn from the experience of Japan,” he said, “where, instead of responding through the exercise of force, such as strikes, the principle of industrial relations and specific labour agreements are stipulated after consultations between labour and management.”
In response to these talks, ITUC Yangon Office Director Nakajima described Japan’s experience toward the building of constructive industrial relations, explaining how, prompted mainly by the period of high economic growth in the 1960s, the pivot of industrial relations in Japan shifted from confrontation to fair distribution through contributions to increased productivity. He added that a system for preventing unfair labour practices is essential in Myanmar today.
On the second day, all of the participants split up into four groups and held group discussions and presentations on the improvement of industrial relations and the settlement of issues faced in the workplace. The groups pointed out, for example, that even if they want to build trustworthy ties, the hostile attitudes of employers stand in the way, that wages are low, and that the government’s policymaking process is opaque. On the other hand, there were also calls for positive involvement in alleviating the confrontation among different unions in workplaces and improving the capabilities and skills of workers themselves.
In response, JILAF General Affairs and Finance Group Leader Kiyoshi Nagamura delivered a lecture titled “Formation of the Postwar Japanese Labour Movement and Characteristics of Industrial Relations in Japan,” in which he explained the interrelationship and importance of such things as the three principles of the productivity movement, the historical process of the Japanese labour movement up to the present industrial relations, labour-management consultations, and the policy proposal capabilities of trade unions. Referring to the issues currently facing trade unions in Myanmar, he emphasized that Japanese trade unions had established systems of collective bargaining and labour-management consultations on the basis of autonomous and independent union management.
Finally, the two-day seminar came to a close with Group Leader Nagamura encouraging the participants by expressing his hope for strengthening of the financial base of unions in Myanmar and the sound development of industrial relations in that country and ITUC Yangon Office Director Nakajima saying he felt the movement was growing each time he visited Myanmar and hoped it would reach out to young people as well.
After the seminar, on November 29–30 the FTUM held its first national convention in Myanmar since democratization, at which it enacted rules and regulations in accordance with the government’s criteria for registration as a central organization of trade unions and reelected five executives. The name of the organization was also changed from the FTUM to the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM). On the basis of these decisions, the CTUM is now going ahead with procedures for registration with the government as the official central organization of trade unions. Upon registration, the CTUM will make a fresh start as Myanmar’s national center for trade unions.


11/26WedSeminar day 1
11/27ThuSeminar day 2

Photos of the Participants

FTUM General Secretary Maung Maung delivers an address on behalf of the co-organizer.

Minister-Counselor Ichiro Maruyama of the Japanese Embassy in Myanmar delivers an address as a guest at the seminar.

ITUC Yangon Office Director Shigeru Nakajima speaks to the participants.

JILAF General Affairs and Finance Group Leader Kiyoshi Nagamura gives a lecture.

The participants divided into four groups for group work.

Each group compiled an action plan to solve current issues between labour and management.