Myanmar’s fashion garment workers lose jobs

Over 60,000 factory workers in Myanmar have already lost their jobs since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Among them are those working in the garment factories that supply some of the world’s biggest fashion brands.

The United Nations says the situation will worsen; predicting half Myanmar’s garment workers will be out of work.

The Myanmar Garment Manufacturers’ Association says the factories had been hit hard by supply chain disruptions and a slump in orders caused by the pandemic.

The garment sector employs an estimated workforce of 700,000, most of whom are women who moved to the city after their traditional livelihood in agriculture was lost due to climate change.

“It is a very dire situation and the impact that comes with losing their jobs is they will not be able to feed themselves. It’s really as basic as that,” Araddhya Mehtta, country director of ActionAid Myanmar, says.

“With the factories being shut down, it has meant they have lost their only means of livelihood. That’s their lifeline really, for themselves and the families that they support.”

The situation is “putting women at greater risk of sexual and domestic violence,” Mehtta says.

The government’s social protection programme is offering some factory workers 40 per cent of their salaries while factors are shut down.

Unpaid wages

Unpaid wages are also an issue for some workers.

One says she hasn’t received her salary since January as the factory owner left without paying more than 300 workers.

“With this current situation, we have to be worried about dying from a lack of food first. We just want our salary for the time that we have worked,” she says.

A €5 million emergency cash fund has been established by the EU to support Myanmar’s garment workers. Each receives an average payment of US$53 for up to three months.

Over the next few weeks, the fund is expected to reach around 90,000 workers. Seventy per cent of the garments made in Myanmar’s factories go to Europe.

Myanmar’s own COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan outlines a series of measures to cushion COVID-19s economic impact.

It includes an expansion of low-interest loans to affected businesses, cash-for-work and lending programs for rural areas.

While the money is helpful, ActionAid says more support is needed for casual workers and marginalized groups.

Myanmar has reported 161 confirmed cases of COVID-19 including six deaths and 49 recovered, according to health authorities.


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