World Day for Safety and Health at Work: ILO Social Partners to join hands

Today, April 28, marks World Day for Safety and Health at Work (SafeDay). This year’s SafeDay focuses on anticipating, preparing and responding to crises – by investing in resilient Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Systems.

Press release | 28 April 2021
YANGON (ILO News) - SafeDay has traditionally involved several ILO activities throughout Myanmar with ILO constituents. With the current ongoing situation in Myanmar, the space for workers, employers and government to interact and support one another is disappearing, affecting the capacity of Myanmar constituents to work effectively on occupational safety and health.

On this day, one year ago, Myanmar faced the early stages of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which continues to affect the livelihoods and occupational safety and health of workers and employers everywhere. The ILO acknowledges the importance of the occupational safety and health responses of UMFCCI, CTUM, AFFM-IUF and MICS, aimed at increasing resilience and capacity of workplaces to respond to the pandemic.

Myanmar now faces new threats to the wellbeing and economic livelihoods of its people. The past few months have brought unprecedented levels of stress to the entire country. The COVID-19 pandemic and the current political situation have meant workers and their families are facing significant threats not only to their health but to their physical safety. These crises have translated into business closures and loss of jobs, reduced work opportunities, increasing precarious work, long-term unemployment and decreased financial stability and perhaps most importantly direct threats of violence.

Employers and workers face COVID-19 related threats and have to manage high levels of uncertainty in the face of gloomy prospects.  With forecasts by the World Bank predicting a 10% economic contraction this year, employers in particular face several months of hard choices ahead. The marked absence of a conducive political environment that allows economic actors to perform their respective roles in a free, fair and peaceful manner has added to the volatility of the situation. A climate free from violence, pressure or threat is essential to sustain decent work.

These stressors and the insecurity of daily life have serious consequences to the mental health and well-being of Myanmar workers and employers, and their families. The impact of stress on health can vary according to individual response; however, high stress levels can contribute to developing health-related impairments, including mental and behavioural disorders such as exhaustion, burnout, anxiety, and depression, as well as other physical impairments such as cardio-vascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders.

Never before in Myanmar has the need to build effective workplace cooperation, focused on dialogue, been more important for business survival and worker wellbeing than now. A collective approach to manage prevention and mitigation measures for COVID-19, diminishing stress and promoting wellbeing at the workplace must be built on trust, solidarity and empathy. The wellbeing of workers and employers are inter-related. Initiatives on COVID-19 and stress management in the workplace should be discussed among workers and employers and can include peer-to-peer support, individual professional counselling, stress relief activities (informal discussions, physical activity), network support by co-workers and workers’ and employers’ organizations, or civil society organisations (CSOs) in the case of unemployment and business closures.

Workers and employers need to join hands at several stages for Myanmar to overcome the health, political and economic crises the country faces. The first stage is to withstand the mental and physical stress the crises bring by promoting safety, health, and resilience. This can only be accomplished when workers and employers come together toward a common goal in a space conducive to honest dialogue without violence or the threat of violence when exercising their fundamental labour rights.

Managing the pandemic last year showed that employers and workers can work together to implement preventive and mitigation measures. They can do so again to help each other manage stress and build resilience at the workplace.