Burma

Ministry Pledges Legal Protection For Domestic Workers

By Tin Htet Paing 10 August 2017

YANGON — The Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population has pledged to provide legal protections for Myanmar housemaids working abroad without proper documentation, the minister said on Thursday.

Responding to a parliamentary question on such protections raised by Lower House lawmaker U Min Thein of Magwe Division’s Taungdwingyi Township, Minister U Thein Swe acknowledged that traffickers and agents have been sending female domestic workers to foreign countries illegally, since his ministry has ceased to provide such work documentation since 2014.

“Due to language barriers and very few chances to communicate with other organizations outside [of their employers’ houses], they are unable to get the legal rights of the host countries,” Minister U Thein Swe said.

“By collecting data from migrant workers in foreign countries, we will arrange to legalize the status of domestic workers,” the minister told lawmakers.

Lawmaker U Min Thein questioned if the ministry planned to put forward a clear policy granting legal protections for domestic workers who are employed by local families in foreign countries and within Myanmar. He cited a recent suicide in which a domestic worker, who was a Myanmar national, jumped from a high-rise apartment in Singapore, allegedly as a consequence of ill treatment by her employer, as well as the high profile case of the two enslaved teenaged housemaids in the Ava tailor shop in downtown Yangon.

Minister U Thein Swe also acknowledged the need for a separate law dedicated to preventing and tackling abuse, exploitation, and debt bondage carried out by employers against housemaids. He also pointed out that there are limitations in trying to collect information about such workers and to investigate allegations of violations by employers due to the nature of domestic work.

“They are usually employed through relatives and friends or through brokers and agents, and they stay inside the houses of their employers,” he explained. “[For these reasons,] we have difficulty in inspecting if the employers follow the regulated [maximum] working hours or respect the rules.”

The ministry has so far only officially 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, according to the ministry.

International Domestic Workers’ Day was celebrated last week for the first time in Myanmar with the assistance of the International Labor Organization (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 laid 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.

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