Finding a common ground

By Maung Maung, President of the Confederation of the Trade Unions Myanmar

On the 3rd of March 2020, the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar CTUM, the Myanmar Industries, Crafts and Services Trade Unions Federation MICS TUSF, Agriculture Farmers Federation of Myanmar AFM, the All Myanmar Trade Unions Network AMTUN, We generation Network, the Lets Help Each Other LHEO organization, the Future Light Organization, the Labor Power Group LPG, the Action Labor Rights ALR, Farmer and Labor Action Group FLAG, all came together to share information, evaluate and identify the key elements that would be the basic issues the workers were concerned regarding the present status of the COVID 19 virus and its impact on the population of Myanmar.
We issued a (7) points joint statement based on what we all agreed on.
Social Dialogue towards a Common Ground:
On the 5th of march 2020 there was meeting called by the UMFCCI where representatives from the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Manpower, the Ministry of Commerce and Trade, the Ministry of Finance and Industries participated together with and the Chambers of the different Countries participated. It was only a two hours meeting but was very constructive as short but precise exchanges were given on preparations and some possible solutions by the Ministries and the Social Dialogue partners. There were also valuable and practical comments from the international chambers.
All the above were discussed in the situation where even though Myanmar is right besides China, there was no reported directed death yet from the CORVID 19 virus.
This evening the Ministry of Health has reported of four deaths in ( Hmawbi- Yangon region, Mandalay region, Northern Shan, Rakhine state ) from those that were monitored when found with symptoms of the COVID 19 virus. And it was confirmed by the MOH that the deaths are not due to the COVID 19 virus.
Now all of us have to prepare for work stoppages within the CMP and SME factories not only due to the reduction of raw material from China but also of the possibility of the spreading within the congested communities of the across the country.
There are information of many CMP factories are closing down in Myanmar that have openly stated this shortage reason while there are also some factories that have vague reasons in so called close-downs. We have updates of garment factories that have just opened up and hiring workers / we also know factories that are calling overtime work now and have said that should they have to close down due to shortage, they will give the minimum wage and close temporarily.
Many possibilities, many risks for the employers, employees as well as for the country.

Photo: Phoe Khwar
Photo: Phoe Khwar

The CMP and SME Employers do not want to loose their experienced workers ( and their market), Employees do not want to loose their jobs, the Government does not want a national collapse – and international investors are looking for who can survive this crisis.
At the same time the transport sector, the tourism sector, the hotel sector, the logistics ( cargo and containers truck owners + drivers) sectors, all those that directly are related to the China border trade are facing very harsh impacts on their livelihood and will need quick financial stimulus package from the government. Some Asean countries have already taken step to ease ( reduce, delay or even eliminate interest payments ) the loans of the small and medium sized firms so that they avoid bankruptcy.
A good and practical solution by the Yangon region Government and the Fruit and vegetable Growers Association was to see hear the positive impact of the fruit and vegetable show in Kandawgyi that helped with the selling of (130 tons) of Watermelon. Then there are the franchises – big international food chains that get their finished product other than from China, package and sell in Myanmar. Of these we still have not heard of anomalies within their workspace.
We also have extractive industries where the raw products are still being sent to China – a big difference in the necessity and value is seen in the opening and blocking of the border. CTUM urgently urges the “ The Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)” to scrutinize the health conditions of the drivers and their communities.
National Task Force: Myanmar already has a national task force . The Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
As of today CTUM members have distributed 20,000 of the COVID 19 Awareness raising pamphlets issued by Social Welfare dept of MOLIP in 64 factories within the Hlaingtharyar industrial zone, some fringe areas of the Shwepyithar industrial zone and Dagon Seikkan industrial zones.
Workers can participate in this kind of action in this National Crisis and we are ready to do more.
As a country we are very proud and do our best to find our own solutions. But the Trade Unions would like to suggest that we need to find out what the World Bank (www.worldbank.org Press Release Mar 3,2020) and the IMF (https://www.imf.org/en News/Articles/ 2020/03/04/ sp030420-imf-makes-available-50-billion-to-help-address-coronavirus) are ready to support us before the raw material shortage and the stoppage of tourism crashes our fledging economy.
We also understand that the G7 members “are ready to cooperate further on timely and effective measures”.

Local issues:
At the same time our farmers are reporting that they are unable to sell their paddy in their rural areas, the factory workers ( Hlaingtharyar township, Hmawbi township) are informing of the increase of the rice in the markets.
Rice, Onions, Potato are all grown locally, transported locally and sold locally. We call upon the Government to work with the UMFCC and the Myanmar Rice Millers Association to maintain or even decrease the price of rice. (it is not fair to try and cover up the losses occurred in the China border closing on the local population).
As a country we produce enough food for ourselves and after all citizens have eaten their full, there will be enough for the traders to sell to our neighbors. Government intervention of this kind is essential so that we could and should avoid the food shortage now seen in other countries .

Our view:
The workers within the CMP and SME sectors understand that this a global crisis, a national situation and we all have to prepare for the worst.
But CTUM also sees that for whatever reasons as Myanmar does not have any direct infection (up to this moment) if the COVID 19 situation (health, economic, social conditions) is handled well, our country can come out on top within the recovery.
Myanmar survived a lot of hardships. At the moment, that this is the first time all of us are working in advance of a National crisis reflected from a Global Pandemic.
If we open our eyes and ears, listen to all and decide collectively, work in unison we, as country will come out for the better from this Global Crisis. We can do it.

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