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Impacts of COVID-19 on Myanmar's garment sector

Background information on garment sector

Myanmar’s garment industry employs over 700,000 people and accounts for nearly 10% of all exports. Myanmar’s minimum wages are among the lowest in the region and lower than its garment producing neighbours such as China, Cambodia and Vietnam. Over 90% of the garment workforce is made up of women. The daily minimum wage stands at 4,800 Kyat (US$3.30) per day (equivalent to approximately $71.50 per month), which falls far short of the estimated living wage of 5,16,312 Kyat (US$379) per month. Some garment workers are also eligible for bonuses, including seniority, skills, productivity and attendance bonuses, however workers’ wages are also often subject to deductions for social security fees, hostel accommodation, food and transport.

The European Union accounts for 70% of Myanmar’s garment exports, however the European Commission is considering whether to withdraw tariff preferences granted to Myanmar under the European Union's Everything But Arms' (EBA) trade scheme in response to accusations against the Myanmar military by UN officials and NGOs of persecuting the Rohingya in northern Rakhine. A monitoring mission scheduled to visit Myanmar this summer, to review the human rights situation and the government’s willingness to change course, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United States, Korea, China and Canada are also key export destinations for Myanmar’s garment exports. Brands sourcing from Myanmar on our tracker can be viewed below.

The 2020 ITUC Global Rights Index – which rates countries on a scale from 1 (best) to 5+ (worst) on the degree of respect for workers' rights – rates Myanmar as 4, indicating workers experience systematic violations of internationally recognised labour rights.

Impacts of pandemic

Job losses

As of the end of April, 175 factories had ceased operations as a result of COVID-19, leaving over 60,000 garment workers without jobs. This number of job losses to date is likely to be several times higher – the European Union estimates that 350,000 garment workers in Myanmar are at risk of either being suspended without pay or losing their jobs permanently.

Wages & social protections

Clean Clothes campaign estimates that in the months of March, April and May garment workers in Myanmar lost a total of approximately 33% of their normal wages, equivalent to US$64 million in wages as a result of the pandemic.

At a National Tripartite Dialogue Forum on 25 March 2020 between government, employers and worker representatives, union federations collectively called for the temporary shutdown of factories, with paid leave in April covered in part by the government. They also called for immediate actions to prevent the targeted termination of unionists without due process. Their recommendations were dismissed entirely.

Garment workers in Yangon have reportedly not received their wages since the government imposed a local lockdown and shutdown of factories on 21 September, which has been extended to 21 October.

The European Union has created a €5 million emergency cash fund – called the Myan Ku Fund – to support thousands of garment workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The Myan Ku Fund offers cash transfers of on average $55 (75,000 Kyat) monthly for up to three months for garment workers who have lost their jobs and cash transfers of $92 (125,000 Kyat) for workers whose contracts were illegally terminated.

Labour and human rights violations

In Myanmar, we have tracked reports of the following rights violations of garment workers during the COVID-19 pandemic:

This is not a comprehensive list of violations and cases, full coverage of the impacts of COVID-19 on Myanmar’s garment sector and related industrial disputes can be viewed here. Actions taken by fashion brands sourcing from Myanmar in response to the pandemic can be viewed below.

Demands from local unions & civil society groups

Asia Floor Wage Alliance, WIEGO, HomeNet South Asia and HomeNet South East Asia are calling on brands to make a one-time Supply Chain Relief Contribution equal to 60 days of wages lost for all garment workers in their supply chains – including time-rated, piece-rated, subcontracted and home workers – during the COVID-19 crisis, as a requirement of responsible business practice.

Immediately after the European Union announced the creation of its emergency fund, an ad hoc alliance of Myanmar labour groups came out with a statement, detailing the specific needs of different categories of workers:

  • Daily labourers and workers on temporary contracts risk being forgotten when it comes to payment of wages and compensation. The same is true for workers in apprenticeship or a probation period.
  • Workers who have worked for three or more years at a factory are entitled to a certain level of compensation; this has often not been respected.
  • Workers with less than six months of service are not entitled to severance pay, according to Myanmar Labour law/ notification N0. 84/2015. Due to the high turnover rate, such workers form a large group. Missing out on severance pay is a setback that such workers cannot easily absorb.
  • Workers in informal jobs in the garment, textile and footwear sector such as home-based workers are completely missing out on any form of compensation.

The Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar, IndustriALL and suppliers and brands sourcing from Myanmar have negotiated a joint framework ‘Myanmar during the COVID-19 Crisis: Working together to Protect the Health and Welfare of Workers and supporting the payment of Workers and Factories’.

Click below to find out more information directly from local unions and labour groups:

Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar

Let’s Help Each Other (LHEO)

WE Generation Network

Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar (FGWM)

You can view a list of campaigns and demands by international civil society organisations demands here.

[This is a live tracker we update on an ongoing basis. If you have additional information on these issues please contact us at [email protected] with the subject line ‘COVID-19 Action Tracker’]