WITH the income generated by women much needed for the support of their families owing to a 37.5 per cent poverty rate, Myanmar’s largest workers organisation – the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM) – has opened a Women Workers’ Centre in Hlaing Thar Yar township of Yangon region.
CTUM’s president Maung Maung said the centre would be open daily to provide female workers with knowledge essential to improving productivity in their profession. He expected the centre to play a key role in fulfilling the needs of Myanmar’s female workers.
“It is like a meeting point for women to share experiences and to be empowered to get involved,” he said.
“Before opening this centre, we tried to find out what the problems of women workers are and how we can help to bridge the gap. They have problems such as a lack of labour rights knowledge and basic health knowledge, which leads to a high turnover and lower productivity at work.”
Maung Maung said it took about one year to establish the centre with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, through German development agency GIZ. The centre will be free of charge for all women, with 24-hour hotline support and pre-arranged legal counselling services. Training about labour laws and skills development will be conducted soon. In addition to sharing knowledge of laws related to the protection of women, women health and gender violence, the centre will provide legal counselling for individuals to help them solve labour rights issues and other women- related issues.
Maung Maung said the organisation is planning to open additional women’s centres in New Dagon and Mingaladon townships of Yangon region as well as in Mandalay and Bago regions.
Once opened, the centres could make a major contribution to CTUM’s core activities, including supporting workers to establish unions according to national labour laws, building capacity of trade unions leaders and members, addressing issues of gender equality, gender-based violence and forced labour, and contributing to the policy-making process.
Established in July 2015, CTUM represents 745 registered trade unions in nine different sectors, and has a membership of over 65,000 workers in Myanmar. In cooperation with different donor organisations and international trade unions, the organisation works for the rights of workers and to build the capacity of trade unions. Khaing Zar Aung, president of Industrial Workers Federation Myanmar, said the centre would play a key role in improving Myanmar women’s legal and general knowledge.
“Labour rights issues and gender violence issues are common among women workers. This centre is not only for CTUM members, but also to provide suggestions for any individual woman worker on how to address the issues they are facing,” she said.
“They can report to us either by visiting the centre or by calling the hotline service. The centre will advise them about the applicable laws.”
Myanmar women in the garment industry know little about their legal rights and thus may easily fall into a vicious circle of exploitation and debt, Khaing Zar Aung said. The centre will provide a lot of help to such women.
According to the statistics, Myanmar’s textile and garment industry constitutes approximately 530 factories, employing around 500,000 people. Roughly 90 per cent of the employees in the textile and garment industry are young women, most typically between 16 and 27 years old.
“For garment workers to claim their rights, they need to know more about related laws. Awareness of their rights will improve labour conditions in this sector,” Khaing Zar Aung said.
Project Representative Su Tayar Lin sees great potential for the centre thanks to its location and the effective network of CTUM. “We are eager to empower women. We want them to know their rights and understand labour laws. We want to create a much healthier relationship between employers and workers by making them aware of the current labour laws,” she said.