Govt to Opt for Middle Ground on Minimum Wage Demands

By Yen Saning 24 June 2015

RANGOON — A two-day workshop in Rangoon has failed to find common ground between workers’ representatives and employers, as the Burmese government prepares to implement an official minimum wage in the coming months.

The National Committee on Minimum Wage, which met on Wednesday at Rangoon’s Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, expects to unveil an interim minimum wage proposal before the end of June, which will give employer and labor groups 14 days to lodge complaints before a final decision is approved by the Union government 60 days from the date of the announcement.*

Labor unions on Wednesday pushed for a 4000 kyats (US$3.60) daily base rate, while garment factory owners at the meeting held firm to a daily rate of 2500 kyats ($2.25). Employer groups are also calling for different minimum wages across other industries.

Myo Aung, director-general of the Department of Labor, proposed a floor wage of 3600 kyats (US$3.25), reflecting a consensus proposal arrived at by state and divisional labor departments, but failed to satisfy either side. Nonetheless, a member of the committee told The Irrawaddy that “it will likely be that amount”.

The Union Parliament passed a Minimum Wage Law in March 2013. It took until January this year for the Ministry of Labor to begin a household expenses survey that will be used to assist in formulating the minimum wage.

Sai Khaing Myo Tun, the secretary of the Rangoon University Teachers’ Union and an employee representative on the committee, said that the minimum wage would be set at the same amount across all industries, and that trade unions were continuing to push for the same rate across all states and divisions. He dismissed the garment sector’s proposal as manifestly inadequate.

“Workers will absolutely not accept the amount offered by garment factory owners,” he told The Irrawaddy. “We hope that the minimum wage will be set in a situation where both parties can accept the decision. Based on the [household expenses] data collected across the country, we assume a good minimum wage will appear.”

In recent years, Rangoon has seen several garment factory strikes on the back of worker demands for higher wages. Thida Aye, an employee at a garment factory in the city’s Shwepyithar industrial zone, said she already worked on a 2500 kyats base rate for an eight-hour day and relied on working several hours of overtime each day, paid at 500 kyats ($0.45) per hour, in order to meet her living expenses.

“When a bucket of the lowest quality rice is already 1600 kyats, how can somebody like me, a widow with a son, continue to survive?” she asked.
Although workers at her factory have no plans to return to the picket line, Thida Aye told The Irrawaddy that those in the garment sector would continue to fight for necessary wage increases.

“We will complain in accordance with the law, all the way to Naypyidaw,” she said.

*Editor’s Note, Jun. 30, 2015—a previous version of this article said that labor and employer groups had 60 days to lodge an objection. This has been corrected.