September 2021 Updates:
Impact on workers and families:
According to EcoTextile News, several brands have either halted orders or withdrawn from Myanmar after the global union IndustriALL urged foreign companies to divest from the country because of the worsening political situation. More than 100,000 garment workers were already unemployed and that number could rise by another 200,000 by the end of this year. A country also stricken by a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, the trajectory does not bode well for workers and families reliant on the garment sector for their livlihoods.
August 2021 Updates:
Impact on workers and families:
Labour experts estimate that the number of unemployed in Myanmar will rise by another 200,000 by the end of this year due to the continuous closure of garment factories. According to DVB, some factories that are still open are not paying workers as before or have reduced workers’ salaries significantly. There are also predictions that most international investors will leave.
July 2021 Updates:
Updates from local staff and project factories
When The Centre contacted factories working with us in May, half of them were temporarily closed with many hoping to be up and running again in three months. Other factories however, could not tell when, if ever, they will operate again. During this time, some of these factories had to reduce their manpower and rely solely on local staff, as 90% of Chinese staff went back to China according to what these factories told us.
The Centre once again reached out to two project factories in late July to check on their status and to explore the feasibility to resuming worker wellbeing programmes there. One of these factories was temporarily closed, while another was open at the time of our inquiry. However, due to the onslaught of a third Covid wave, all factories have been ordered to cease production until August 1, 2021. The Centre will follow up with this factory when it reopens.
The Centre has also reached out to all the children who have ongoing or completed remediation programmes with The Centre. All of these children are currently at home including those who are now of working age and had jobs.
From our discussions with workers in July, we heard that due to the dual effects of the coup and Covid, workers are now not only struggling financially, but in terms of health as well. Anecdotal evidence points to an increase in factories hiring temporary workers, who are not entitled to benefits including leave, healthcare and other support. We have been told of workers concealing their Covid symptoms and going to work out of fear for losing their jobs because they have no social protection. Situations like this are apparently widespread and contributing to the rapid spread of the virus.
According to our staff in Myanmar, there is an acute shortage of medical assistance and people are being forced to find healthcare solutions themselves.
Myanmar is currently facing a deteriorating COVID crisis, with record cases and deaths reported in July.
Access to essential services and supplies is extremely limited.
According to the World Bank, around 1 million jobs could be lost, and many other workers will experience a decline in their incomes due to reduced hours or wages. The share of Myanmar’s population living in poverty is likely to more than double by the beginning of 2022, compared to 2019 levels.
June 2021 Updates:
By June 8, 2021, Myanmar has recorded 144,456 cases of COVID-19 and the number of deaths rose to 3,227, while the number of recovered patients rose to 132,525.
Due to political turmoil and strike, many hospitals and clinics are closed.
Impact on workers:
The combination of COVID-19 and political turmoil is making access to medical care extremely difficult for families.
According to Myanmar Now, around 200,000 workers have lost their jobs since the military coup on February 1, 2021, while a further 200,000 are estimated to have lost their jobs prior to the coup because of COVID-19. According to the same source, many famous brands have pulled out of Myanmar. This dual impact on workers’ job security is increasing families’ financial pressure and many are struggling to pay for basic necessities.
March 2021 Updates:
The number of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar has increased to 142,000 as of March 4, 2021
A nationwide 20:00-04:00 curfew is currently in place due to the ongoing unrest
Schools in Myanmar have been closed for an entire calendar year due to COVID-19 and will continue to stay shut until further notice
The situation of workers and factories in Myanmar
At least 65,000 workers have been laid off in Yangon since the pandemic began, a regional minister has said. Moe Moe Suu Kyi, Yangon’s employment minister, said that at least 70 of the region’s factories have shut down entirely, costing almost 25,000 jobs, while 200 more closed temporarily or laid off workers, costing another 40,000 jobs. However, trade unions say the number is much higher.
According to Yangon's employment minister, the government is paying 40% of the wages of employees who paid social security contributions, while employees who did not pay social security are receiving a one-off payment of 30,000 kyat in support from the government.
COVID-19 impact on families
Food and fuel prices have been rising sharply recently in Myanmar, putting families already reeling from the effects of the pandemic, under greater pressure. The price of rice was up by as much as 35% in some regions since February. Families from poor backgrounds are struggling to feed themselves and the risk of increased malnutrition among children is extremely high
Prolonged school closure coupled with increasing financial pressure is creating an environment where child labour is very likely to increase exponentially, especially in the informal sector.
September 2020 Updates:
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, The Centre has been supporting 8 juvenile workers facing extreme hardship in Myanmar by deploying a COVID-19 emergency fund founded by a German brand. We recently spoke to four of the children to see how they’re doing. Here are their stories.
1. Htet, 16 years old, currently receiving 3 months of living stipends based on the country’s minimum wage standard: Htet has been working as a clerk in a fish pond since last July. His salary only covers basic living costs. He lives with his parents and grandmother. His father works at their small farm and hasn’t been able to sell the vegetables from his farm during the COVID 19 period. Two months ago, his mother found out that she has breast cancer and can no longer work. The family is now struggling to pay for her medical expenses. Htet recently passed his university entrance exam and dreams of continuing with his education.
“My mother wants me to keep this money for my studies but during COVID 19, we are struggling a lot with my mother’s medical expenses. With the money from The Centre (CCR CSR), we can pay for my mother’s medical expenses. I’ll work hard and try to continue studying,” Htet said.
2. Chit, 17 years old, currently receiving 3 months of living stipends based on the country’s minimum wage standard: Chit lives with his mother and two siblings. A few months ago, he broke his leg at work and had a steel rod put into his leg. The factory gave him compensation for the accident but fired him at the same time. He now has to undergo another operation to remove the steel rod but doesn’t have enough money to cover the costs. He has been unable to find a new job during the pandemic and his mother is the sole provider. The 3-month living stipend is enough to pay for his operation.
“Thank you so much for the supporting us. We will go to hospital for his operation once we receive the support from The Centre (CCR CSR). My son always puts our family first but due to his leg pain, it is not easy for him to find a suitable job. Now we are so happy because we can heal my son’s leg. After this operation, I hope he will be able to go back to work again,” Chit’s mother.
3. Kyu Kyu, 17 years old, currently receiving a living stipend for one month based on the country’s minimum wage standard: Kyu Kyu left her hometown and headed to the city to live with her sister with the hope of finding decent work. That has proven to be extremely difficult due to COVID-19 and she has yet to find something. When CCR CSR became aware of her situation, she was struggling to pay for her hostel fees and food.
“My parents want me to come back to my hometown if I don’t find a job. But I don’t want to give up. This living stipend and in-kind support is really helpful because I don’t have to worry about the hostel fees and about food during these two or three months and I can stay in the city and find a job,” Kyu Kyu said.
Impact on Factories
All interviewed factories have been operating since the first week of the May. These factories underwent government inspections and received a certificate permitting them to reopen and prepare their facility for production per government guidelines.
Four factories predict a decrease in orders up to 50% this year; 2 anticipate an increase in orders, 3 think the orders will stay the same, while the remaining 5 say it’s difficult to predict.
The top 3 challenges faced by the surveyed and interviewed factories are: unable to control the risk of virus spread in their facilities, shrinking order volumes, delayed supply from the lower tier factories
Eight our 14 factories were not receiving any government support.
Impact on Parent Workers and Children
1. Income: Four factories reduced their workers’ incentive percentage; the remaining 10 factories did not alter their workers’ payments.
2. Childcare: The top 3 challenges reported by parent workers are: not being able to visit their children at home due to travel restrictions, no time to take care of their children at home while schools are closed as they have to continue going to work, not being able to concentrate on work leading to low productivity and an increase in defect rates.
3. Pregnant workers: Pregnant workers are now entitled to 26 weeks of medical leave at 60% pay during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pregnant workers were previously eligible for six weeks maternity leave at 70% pay before delivery and eight weeks after. On March 30, it was announced that pregnant women were banned from working during the pandemic in guidelines released by the health ministry.
Actions Taken by The Centre
1. Thanks to the deployment of COVID-19-related emergency funding by 2 brands, we were able to support one family, who was rebuilding their house after it was destroyed by a cyclone, to buy essential building materials such as bamboo and floor sheets. Following the sudden loss of their house, the family had to stay with neighbours in cramped conditions and couldn't afford the rebuilding themselves as all income sources had dried up due to the pandemic.
“With the support from The Centre (formerly 'CCR CSR'), we can rebuild our house in a short time and we don’t have to stay at our neighbour's house and have been able to overcome many challenges,” said the mother of the household.
2. We were also able to deploy the aforementioned emergency fund to support one child to acquire electricity for their home. When electricity was installed in their village in late May, the family could not afford to pay for the devices needed for the electricity to work in their home. The family had previously lost their livelihood because of the pandemic.
“Because of the support from The Centre, we don’t need to borrow money from others to buy the devices. If we hadn’t received this support, we would have had debt. We really were struggling a lot at the time. Now we are so happy that everything is going smoothly. Thank you for your support,” the father told The Centre.
3. We are currently also providing emergency support to four young workers in the form of monthly cash stipends to cover basic living costs and in-kind support. All of these children are in extreme financial hardship because one or both of their parents have lost their livelihoods and are unable to work. One of the children lives in a single-headed household with her mother and two siblings. Her mother's income was reduced drastically during the pandemic and they do not receive any government support.
4. We delivered health care kits to 3 families currently taking part in The Centre’s child labour remediation programme.
5. Increased frequency of monitoring calls to families taking part in a child labour remediation programme to keep abreast on their current situation and challenges faced during COVID-19.
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