After Long Delays, Govt Begins Moving on Minimum Wage

By San Yamin Aung 23 January 2015

RANGOON — After a delay of nearly two years, the government announced on Friday it would this month conduct a survey on household living costs in order to determine a nationally set minimum wage.

The government had planned since early last year to conduct the survey, and the plan has finally materialized after the Union Parliament voted to approve a tripling of lawmaker salaries on Thursday.

“We will start collecting data on Jan. 26 in all states and divisions including Naypyidaw,” Aung Htay Win, a director from the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security, told The Irrawaddy on Friday, adding he expected the survey to be completed in two weeks.

With the assistance of civil society organizations, labor representatives and employer groups, the survey will be conducted across more than 22,000 households in 108 townships, based on a representative sample of household size, socioeconomic level, occupation, earnings and expenses.

“Each seven-member team will collect data in one township. After we finish the survey, we will calculate the output and send it to committees tasked to determine the minimum wage in each state and division,” said Aung Htay Win.

He added that the survey had been delayed because of the need to determine survey questions, conduct pilot studies and train those conducting the study.

Aung Lin, chairperson of the Myanmar Trade Union Federation (MTUF), said that the daily minimum wage would be considered based on submissions from unions and employer groups, in addition to the survey results.

“To endure rising prices and the imbalance between incomes and expenses, labor groups hope to set up a fair daily minimum wage,” he said. “But this has its challenges. The price of goods could continue to rise with the rise in salaries, and even after we set up the minimum wage, we will need a robust payment system so there will not be exploitation of workers.”

At present, Aung Lin said, workers in garment sectors and unskilled laborers for private companies were only earning 50,000-100,000 kyats (US$49-98) per month, well below what was needed to meet rising living costs.

Parliament passed a Minimum Wage Law in Mar. 2013 and the Ministry of Labor said last January that it would set the minimum wage by the end of that year.

“The ministry alone has been given the burden of establishing the minimum wage. I think that lawmakers’ efforts on labor issues have been weak. They should concentrate on it more since the minimum wage will only be established once it has been approved by the Parliament,” said Aung Lin.