As Lawmakers Raise Pay, Minimum Wage Law Languishes

By Nyein Nyein 19 November 2014

Government efforts to conduct a survey on laborers’ socioeconomic conditions and set a daily minimum wage have been delayed for more than a year and a half, even as salaries for lawmakers and civil servants are once again due to increase.

Parliament passed a Minimum Wage Law in March 2013 and the Ministry of Labor said in January that it would set the minimum wage by year’s end, pending data collection covering current wages, the size of the workforce, laborers’ living standards and their families.

But a labor alliance, the Myanmar Trade Union Federation (MTUF), said the law and related bylaws have not been implemented because the workers’ survey is not yet completed.

Aung Lin, the MTUF chairperson and member of a national committee tasked with determining the minimum wage, told The Irrawaddy that “it is because of delays by the [Labor] Ministry.”

The MTUF conducted its own survey in pilot areas in July 2013, the results of which were shared with the national minimum wage committee. It suggested the daily minimum wage be set at 7,000 kyats (US$7) for a household of three people, according to Aung Lin, who added that the Labor Ministry disregarded the findings.

The majority of Burma’s 51 million people are either wage laborers or farmers who reside in rural areas.

Workers at several factories in industrial zones have held wage-related strikes in recent years, facing a job market where a general laborer earns about 60,000 kyats per month while a skilled laborer earns about 150,000 kyats per month.

“The standard minimum wage should be implemented as soon as possible to reduce the workers’ survival problems,” said Mar Mar Oo, the deputy team leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, who added that an additional impending burden on workers would be rising commodity prices expected as a result of a hike of civil servants’ salaries.

Amid the delay in setting a minimum wage, lawmakers last week authorized a salary raise for themselves, as well as for civil servants and soldiers.

Parliament on Nov. 12 approved a motion to implement salary increases for civil servants, soldiers and lawmakers in the next fiscal year, which begins in April 2015. According to the Ministry of National Planning & Economic Development, more than one million people in Burma work as civil servants. The motion included provisions on setting minimum wage bylaws and the implementation of protections for the country’s farmers, but there have been no new developments on these labor issues since then.

A Union-level lawmaker receives a salary of 300,000 kyats per month, and a per diem of 10,000 kyats while they are attending sessions of Parliament. Divisional and state-level parliamentarians earn less, at 200,000 kyats per month.

On Tuesday, the Lower House agreed to a range of salary increases, stipulating that the 2015-16 pay rise would put salaries at 1 million to 1.6 million kyats for each Union-level lawmaker and 500,000 to 1 million kyats for each state and divisional lawmaker.

Parliamentarians this week defended the proposed pay rise.

“Our effort for the salary increases is not solely for us—our successors would have much benefit from that,” said Ye Htun, an ethnic Shan lawmaker who passed blame on the delay to the minimum wage’s implementation.

“We can only make laws, and the respective ministries then implement it. Now the salary issues have been agreed to, but the exact amount on the raise is the executive’s decision.”

The current Parliament’s term expires in March 2016, following national elections slated for late 2015.

Ba Shein, an Arakanese lawmaker, said the agreed salary boost would help parliamentarians to focus on their work. While some sitting members of Parliament are wealthy, others struggle to afford even basic things like their children’s school fees, he said.

“How can we work if we cannot support our families?” Ba Shein said.

The amount of each salary increase is yet to be determined by relevant ministries of President Thein Sein’s administration. The president has two weeks to review and sign into law any proposal passed by Parliament, and can also send it back to the legislature with suggested changes.