Ministry to Legalize Myanmar Domestic Workers in Singapore

By Zue Zue 19 June 2017

YANGON — The Myanmar government will register and legalize Myanmar national domestic workers in Singapore, said deputy director general Daw Khin Nwe Oo of the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population.

The ministry has so far only approved sending some 130 domestic workers to Singapore through a bilateral agreement between the two governments but it is estimated that as many as 40,000 Myanmar nationals are currently engaged in domestic work in Singapore, said the deputy director general during an event to celebrate World Domestic Workers’ Day in Yangon on June 16.

“We will tally the number of workers in the first phase. We already have action plans that we will carry out depending on the number. We want to protect them,” she said.

“I want domestic workers to get registered, and we’ll issue official documents for them,” she added.

At the event, civil society organizations (CSOs) engaged in defending and promoting the rights of migrant workers along with a network of labor organizations demanded that the Myanmar government sign International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, which concerns decent work for domestic workers. But, the deputy director general replied that her ministry has no plan to sign the convention at this time.

The event also hosted a debate regarding the ban on migrant domestic workers. Daw Thet Thet Aung, leader of a CSO called the Future Light Center, said although the Myanmar government has prohibited sending domestic helpers to Singapore since 2014, 30 to 40 workers migrate every day in this capacity, and they dare not ask the Myanmar Embassy for assistance if difficulties arise as they are not there legally.

“In our country, job opportunities are fewer and the pay is less than in other countries. So, people have to go to other countries for their livelihood. Officially sending domestic workers under clear rules and regulations, and with a complaint mechanism, will help protect them,” she said.

Participants recalled a recent suicide in which a Myanmar domestic worker jumped from a high-rise in Singapore, allegedly as a consequence of ill treatment by her employer and a lack of options due to Myanmar’s ban.

Participants also demanded ensuring the same rights and protections enshrined in labor laws for internal and migrant domestic workers in response to recent media reports about the abuse of domestic helpers within the country.

International Domestic Workers’ Day was celebrated last week for the first time in Burma with the assistance of the ILO and the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT).

On June 16, 2011, the ILO adopted a landmark treaty, the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which set out the rights of domestic workers. The convention requires countries to guarantee domestic workers the same rights as other workers regarding daily and weekly rest periods, working hours, overtime compensation and paid annual leave; as well as adequate protection against violence.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.