CSR Asia has been working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on the“Invest to Excel – Sustainably growing your workforce in Myanmar” programme. The aim of the programme is to build preparedness activities, such as skills trainings and apprenticeship/employment schemes, for the eventual voluntary return of refugees and migrant workers from Thailand to Myanmar as the country reforms and develops, so that their integration into wider society will be sustainable, and their positive impact on the Myanmar labour market and economy will be maximised. There are currently around 110,000 refugees and anywhere between 2 to 3 million migrants living in Thailand. In January 2015, CSR Asia and IRC invited leading companies operating in Myanmar to attend a meeting in Yangon to discuss ways to invest in returning refugees and migrant workers.
In the meeting, IRC provided an overview of the situation for refugees and migrant workers residing in Thailand, as well as the opportunities and challenges for them to return voluntarily to Myanmar. We also had a representative from Accor Asia Pacific, Mallika Naguran, sharing the company’s experience of employing refugees in Australia. Richard Welford, CSR Asia, facilitated the discussion at the event. The event was an opportunity for companies to learn more about refugees and migrant workers residing in Thailand and raise questions they have on the project.
The key takeaways from the event were:
Labour market in Myanmar: The economy in Myanmar is on track to grow by 7.8% in fiscal year 2014 (ending 31 March 2015). The growth is spurred by rising investments driven by improved business confidence, commodity exports, the rising production of natural gas, buoyant tourism and credit growth. As the country continues to grow, it has been reported that the country will need 32 million workers in 2015. IRC anticipates that skilled refugees & migrants will choose to return home in the next 1-3 years.
Refugees and migrants are skilled labour capable of contributing positively to the workforce: The Accor example in Australia demonstrates the value that refugees can bring to the workforce. The Job Ready Program which is designed to provide training for migrants living in Melbourne and Sydney has seen over 70 candidates successfully employed across a range of hotel operations in 2013. IRC also presented the skills that refugees and migrants already possess and have already been trained in.
Building greater preparedness among refugees and migrants in Thailand – an example: With IRC’s focus on building preparedness activities for return to Myanmar, they have introduced a programme to further strengthen the skills and competencies of refugee and migrant health care workers by providing recognised healthcare training courses from accredited academic institutions. IRC and the School of Global Studies at Thammasat University have worked together to introduce a training which leads to the attainment of a Certificate in Public Health, recognised by the Myanmar Ministry of Health (MOH). In addition, thousands of refugees and migrants have received training by IRC and its partners in business management; accounting & finance; computing; language (English, Thai and Burmese); teaching; health care & public health; hospitality management; and agricultural & construction. It is hoped that through these trainings, returnees’ competitiveness will be enhanced in the open labour market.
Successful examples of supporting resettled refugees: IRC has vast experience working with corporate partners to train and recruit refugees. For example, IRC works closely with the restaurant chain, Chipotle, to identify interested and skilled refugees to work in its 1,000 + restaurants across the United States. Also, IRC's New Roots program is giving hundreds of refugee farmers the tools and trainings they need to grow healthy and affordable food and become self-sufficient.
Reintegration into Myanmar: Companies raised concerns in regard to the successful reintegration of returnees into the workforce and the Myanmar society. This highlights the importance in ensuring that the returnees receive the necessary preparedness activities prior to their arrival and continuous support during their resettlement. This is an area that IRC expressed confidence in given their experience of resettling refugees which promotes self-reliance and integration. For example, in 2013, IRC helped resettle some 8,700 newly arrived refugees globally.
Support from the government: This is considered to be a key success factor in facilitating the eventual voluntary return of refugees and migrant workers to Myanmar. Foremost, ensuring that the returnees have the legal status to work and companies have the endorsement from Government to support the programme is important. IRC is currently looking to engage the Government on this issue and will provide more updates later on this year.
If any companies are interested in understanding more or participating in this project, please feel free to get in touch with CSR Asia at Iris.Lui@csr-asia.com .