Myanmar’s fast-growing textile industry, which employs more than 300,000 workers, has become attractive to global apparel brands such as H&M and US retailer Gap Inc following the easing of economic sanctions by the US and the EU.
A minimum monthly wage of around $63, based on a six-day work week, gives Myanmar a competitive advantage over neighboring garment producing hubs such as Vietnam and Cambodia, where the monthly minimum wage ranges from $90 to $145, according to the International Labour Organisation.
Maung Maung Lay, vice president of Myanmar’s Chamber of Commerce, said investors needed to be patient. “Being a late comer, there’s a leap forward for Myanmar to catch up in terms of international labour laws,” he said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
In a month-long dispute, workers demanding better conditions and benefits have destroyed the production line of a Chinese-owned factory in Myanmar making garments such as skirts and shirts exclusively for Swedish fashion retailer H & M (Hennes & Mauritz.) Production at Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment (Myanmar) Company, which was one of H&M’s 40 suppliers in Myanmar, has been halted since 9 February which started following the sacking of a local labour union leader. Workers demanded a better performance review system and healthcare coverage.
Video footage shows dozens of female workers surrounding and beating a Chinese manager who was struggling to escape. In late February hundreds of workers stormed the factory and damaged facilities including textile machinery, computers and surveillance cameras.
“The tension between workers and management was getting bigger day by day,” said the company’s former union leader That Paing Oo, who was fired in January. He had led a labour protest late last year that successfully pushed Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment to compensate employees who did not receive overtime pay, several workers said. The company confirmed that it had paid a delayed overtime payment of 70 million kyat (£42,300) to its 570 workers based on a settlement reached with the workers in December.