Thu 1 Nov 2012
Filed under: Business / Trade,International,News
A senior Australian minister has called on Burma to raise labour standards as the country opens up to international investment.
As Burma continues to come out of the cold, the country is now being seen as an emerging place to do business.
But prospective investors are being urged to tread carefully as there remain concerns about the rule of law and the treatment of workers.
The Australian Government’s Minister for Workplace Relations and Financial Services, Bill Shorten, has just returned from Burma, where he led a delegation of business and community leaders.
Mr Shorten told Australia Network’s Newsline the Australian Government wants to see an emerging middle class in the country, but not at the expense of labour rights.
“‘Labour standards’ is not the same context as we mean about every intricacy of the Australian Fair Work Act, but it is about ensuring that people are not being exploited as they provide labour and services for an emerging economy,” Mr Shorten said.
Mr Shorten said Burma’s government has “latched onto” the standards of the International Labour Organisation to demonstrate their credentials as an emerging democracy.
He said the government is committed to “the rhetoric of better labour standards”.
“We took a group of people, senior people from business and the broader community, to Myanmar to see for ourselves: ‘Is it real or is it rhetoric?’,” he said.
“We’ve come away with a positive impression that there are reformers in the government, including the President and senior ministers, who do want to see change.
“But we also got the clear message from remarkable people such as Aung San Suu Kyi and others that we should be cautiously optimistic, that there is a lot to be done in the area of transparency.
“You can’t have a successful economy where the workers are getting totally mistreated.”
Mr Shorten said that for Australians who see Burma as a land of opportunity, “cowboys need not apply.”
“When Australian companies go overseas they are as much part of the fabric of Australia’s reputation of Team Australia as the government or anyone else,” he said.
“Australia’s engagement in Myanmar, or indeed any other Asian nation as it rises, needs to be just deeper than viewing it as a quick buck, ‘get in get out’.”
Mr Shorten said that he had spoken to Burma’s leaders about the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees.
He said he got the impression that they were very aware of the issue of Rohingya nationality.
“It’s very clear that the treatment of minorities – and the Rohingya are probably the strongest example but certainly not the only example – is an issue which will have to be resolved and improved in order I think for Myanmar to enjoy its prospective rise,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s a simple solution, but it is also very clear to our delegation that human rights can’t be for some and not for all.”