In line with the Paung Ku vision, in order for work to be ‘effective’ it must contribute to ‘equity and respect for the rights of all, particularly those who are marginalised’.
Paung Ku partner We Generation Network is based in Yangon but works nationally. Established in 13 February, 2012. We Generation focuses on protection and promotion of labour rights.
Among the many challenges We Generation faces is deciding how and where to focus their efforts when there are so many abuses occurring in the world of work in Myanmar. While We Generation Network supports workers whose rights are abused across different sectors, a core part of the Network’s work takes place within the manufacturing sector.
This is one of the few industries in Myanmar that is female dominated, with four women employed for every three men (the women work mainly on factory floors). Further, one of the major growth areas in Myanmar manufacturing is garment manufacture where, according to the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, ‘approximately two new garment factories are opening for business in Myanmar every week’. The majority of floor workers in these factories are female; many are internal migrants.
Expansion of the garment manufacturing sector in Myanmar is occurring within a fragmented and unclear legal and accountability framework. In the foreword to an ILO Guide to the Myanmar Labour Law, ILO Liaison Officer Rory Mungoven states clearly that:
The current disparate legal framework, including both existing and draft laws and regulations that impact on the labour market, causes confusion as to the legal rights and obligations of employers and workers. (ILO, 2017)
Abuses documented in garment factories have included women being forced to resign as soon as they become pregnant; workers not being able to refuse overtime; excessive working hours; and being denied the right to a Sunday bonus for taking medical leave during the same pay period.
Supporting labour rights within manufacturing industries—and particularly within the garment manufacturing industry—is, therefore, in keeping with Paung Ku’s programming principles in that it contributes to gender equity, social justice and protection of rights.
The ability of We Generation Network to ‘organise and use resources effectively’ is demonstrated by the fact that in just 1.5 years, We Generation Network has helped about 1,000 factory workers, most of them women, to claim more than 200 million MMK (about US$130,700) in damages from unfair employers. The Network is also a member of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a global alliance established in 1989 and ‘dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear industries’
Paung Ku’s contributions have included helping We Generation establish its office and develop its organisational processes; working alongside We Generation staff and volunteers to help reflect on lessons learned, and strategise for moving forward; linking the network with others that can support their work in practical ways (e.g., in court cases); and providing small grants. For example, in May this year we provided a small grant to enable We Generation to run a May Day Workers’ Rights Campaign event in Hlaingtharyar Township, home to many of Yangon’s garment factories.