RANGOON — Burma’s National Minimum Wage Committee proposed on Monday that the country’s minimum wage be set at 3,600 kyats (US$3.24) for an eight-hour day.
Organizations and individuals will have a two-week window to submit feedback on the proposal before the wage can be enacted.
If approved, the proposed wage—which amounts to less that 50 cents per hour—will be applied across all sectors nationwide, with the exception of certain small and family businesses.
After the feedback window closes, state- and division-level wage committee members will review public input and submit it to the national committee within 30 days.
The national wage committee will then convene with government, industry and labor force stakeholders to reach a final decision within 60 days of Monday’s announcement.
Once the wage is approved by the committee and the Union government, the Minimum Wage Law, approved in early 2013, will immediately take effect. The amount will be assessed and adjusted at least once within its first two years.
The committee is bracing to face criticism from all sides. Labor unions have pushed for higher pay, while factory owners in some sectors have said that the proposal would make their businesses unsustainable.
Sai Khaing Myo Tun, secretary of the Rangoon University Teachers’ Union and a labor representative on the wage committee, said while the proposal didn’t live up to the hopes of labor rights advocates, “we can say it’s getting better with these national measures.”
Some sectors, he said, are likely to request exceptions during the revision period. Employers in the garment cutting, measuring and packaging (CMP) industry have already suggested a gradual hike from 2,500 to about 4,000 kyats over the next three to four years.
The Myanmar Trade Union Federation (MTUF) has remained firm in its demand of at least 4,000 kyats per day, slightly more than proposed. The group’s chairman, Aung Lin, said it will prepare recommendations on behalf all member unions.
MTUF members of a wide array of sectors, he said, are going to demand higher pay to tackle rising commodity and housing costs. Even if the wage was set immediately at 4,000 kyats, he said, “it’s not gonna be easy to cover the costs.”
Emphasizing the long-term effects of low-paid labor, Aung Lin said many workers in Burma’s budding manufacturing sector risk getting caught in a cycle of urban poverty.
“Low wages can’t cover the costs of a family,” he said. “Children cannot continue to go to school and they become child laborers. Then they become day-laborers without finishing middle or high school. This is worrisome for our country; if the wages don’t go up, our human resources will never recover from poor situations.”