ILO Urges Greater Protections for Burmese Migrant Workers

By Nyein Nyein 28 April 2015

RANGOON — A new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) has urged greater protections for young Burmese migrants seeking foreign job opportunities in Asia.

The Safe Migration Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices in Myanmar report, written in collaboration with the Myanmar Development Resource Institute, noted that younger Burmese citizens were at risk of exploitation from unscrupulous employers abroad.

“Greater protection for the migrant workers, whose enduring social and financial remittances continue to fuel the country’s development during this critical transition period, is both an economic and human rights imperative,” the report said.

Ministry of Labor figures show about 10 percent of Burmese nationals are currently working in foreign countries, with 3 million Burmese migrants working in Thailand and Malaysia. Many are still using illegal migration channels to avoid the higher costs associated with an adherence to bilateral labor agreements, rendering them prone to extortionate practices by travel brokers and employers.

The study has urged authorities and groups working in the sector to strengthen legislation on migration, calling for awareness campaigns, stricter monitoring of recruitment agencies, tackling corruption and shutting out unlicensed travel and employment brokers.

In conjunction with the study, which was conducted at townships in Mandalay Division, Dawei and Shan State early last year, the ILO has opened a number of migrant resource centers at its research sites, partnering with government Labor Exchange offices and community centers. A pre-departure information publication, which seeks to educate migrant workers on counselling services and means to seek redress in the event of exploitation, was endorsed on Sunday by the government for migrants traveling to Thailand and Malaysia.

“We had published the pre-departure manual and travel booklet,” said Hnin Hnin Nwe, the national coordinator for the ILO’s GMS-TRIANGLE project. “We disseminate this information in many ways, via training, workshops with trade unions and civil society organizations, and community centers, where publications in ethnic languages are available.”

The collaboration between the ILO and the government is a relatively recent development. Statistics from the report show that 74 percent of prospective migrants from rural areas seek reliable information on migration from family and friends, with only one percent seeking information from the government.

Yin Htway, coordinator of the Rangoon-based civil society organization Labor Rights Defenders and Promoters, told The Irrawaddy that further research was needed to examine migration issues in the country’s border areas.

“Migrant workers from the states and border areas are in need of this sort of information,” he said. “The lack of awareness [of their rights] among potential migrants is one of the biggest issues.”