By Myanmar Now
AROUND 200,000 workers in Myanmar’s garment industry have lost their jobs since the military seized power on February 1, according to a leading workers’ rights advocate.
“The famous brands in the garment sector have pulled out” since the coup, said labour rights activist Ye Naing Win, noting that fashion retailers H&M and Next have both withdrawn from the country amid tightening sanctions by the European Union, the main market for Myanmar’s textile exports.
The industry, which had already shed around 200,000 jobs due to Covid-19, employed at least 700,000 people before the pandemic was declared in March of last year, according to Ye Naing Win.
“There were also employment problems caused by Covid-19, so there have been many negative impacts,” he said, estimating that roughly half the garment factories in the country were no longer in operation.
Brutal crackdowns on anti-coup protests and the imposition of martial law in Yangon’s industrial suburbs have also taken a toll, he added, as many workers fearing for their safety have returned to their hometowns.
Even those who have opted to stay behind rather than face unemployment are struggling because most factories are operating at less than full capacity.
“We really can’t see any future right now, so it’s difficult to know what to say,” said Suu Pone Chit, a garment worker who has been scraping by on basic wages without overtime pay since losing her old job due to the pandemic.
“All we can do is try to make ends meet,” she added when asked how the coup had affected her situation.
Hardly any industry has gone untouched by the upheaval triggered by the military takeover two and a half months ago.
Many of Yangon’s 300,000 construction workers are now out of work due to the suspension of major building projects, and millions of others in the private sector, from general labourers to white-collar workers, are also facing job insecurity.
Even industries that have thrived during the pandemic in other countries are struggling due to the regime’s shutdown of mobile internet connections. Companies that provide internet-based services, such as Shop.com, Food Panda, and Grab, have all stopped operating.
Some businesses have tried to keep workers on their payrolls to retain skilled staff, but they are cutting back now, too, according to a 30-year-old worker in the IT sector who asked not to be named.
“There is absolutely no certainty now,” she said, noting that even job agencies are no longer offering their services in the current environment.
“This situation is so much worse than the situation under Covid,” she said.
Meanwhile, public-sector employees and banking staff taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement have also had to forego their incomes in order to continue putting pressure on the military to give up power.
The last time Myanmar was in a comparable situation was during the nationwide pro-democracy uprising of 1988. However, at that time, the country’s socialist economy was already largely cut off from the outside world.
These days, the country is more dependent on trade and foreign investment and thus more susceptible to the effects of international isolation, said Ye Naing Win.
This affects not only businesses, he said, but also those who work for them.
“Unemployment means that people will have to struggle just to survive,” he said.
Top: A garment worker makes disposable surgical gowns at a factory in Yangon on April 30, 2020: Photo: Myanmar Now
Home Page: Black smoke billows from the industrial zone of Hlaing Thar Yar township in Yangon, Myanmar on March 14, 2021. Attacks on Chinese-run factories in Myanmar’s biggest city drew demands from Beijing for protection for their property and employees, while many in Myanmar expressed outrage over China’s apparent lack of concern for those killed in protests against the February 1 military coup. Photo: AP and published by US News & World Report