Burma

Thousands of Myanmar Workers Demand Higher Minimum Wage

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 20 January 2020

YANGON—More than 5,000 workers marched on Sunday in Hlaing Tharyar Township, where Yangon’s biggest industrial zone is located, to call for higher wages ahead of an upcoming amendment to Myanmar’s minimum wage law.

Under the 2013 Minimum Wage Law, the National Committee for Designating Minimum Wage has to amend the minimum wage at least every two years, with the next wage adjustment planned for May.

Labor protesters told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that the current minimum wage of 4,800 kyats (US$3.26) cannot cover the cost of living.

Ma Tin Tin Wai, chair of the Running Tex Garment Factory Union, a member of the Confederation of Garment Factory Unions, said that workers have to pay around 70,000 kyats per month for a small dormitory room, though their base wage is only 144,000 per month.

Workers used to earn around 200,000 kyats per month for overtime work.

”We are not going to force them to increase the minimum wage. But the current wage can’t cover expenses for any worker who has a family,” said Ma Tin Tin Wai.

Myan Mode Garment Factory Union worker Ko Maung Moe said the workers are not demanding a specific figure for the minimum wage, but merely want it to be sufficient to provide a living for workers and their families.

Due to legislative delays after the 2013 law was passed, the Myanmar government first set the minimum wage for an 8-hour work day at 3,600 kyats in 2015, though labor groups called for the government to set it at 5,600 kyats.

In 2018, workers again voiced concerns, saying that they needed a daily wage of at least 6,600 kyats to cover the cost of living but in May 2018, the government increased the minimum wage to only 4,800 kyats.

Worker representative U Tun Wai, from the Yangon Regional Committee for Designating Minimum Wages, told The Irrawaddy that regional and state wage committees are now starting observation projects to determine their proposals for minimum wages. The regional and state committees will then submit their proposed wages to the national committee at the end of February.

He added that the daily cost of living for workers from Yangon Region can be up to 8,000 kyats per day, according to the Yangon regional committee’s observations.

U Myo Aung, vice president of the National Committee for Designating Minimum Wages and permanent secretary of the Labor Ministry, said the regional and state committees have been asked to conduct their observations and submit their proposed minimum wages as quickly as possible.

U Myo Aung said that while workers are calling for higher wages, employer representatives on the wage setting committees have expressed opposition.

After the minimum wage adjustment in 2018, the number of Myanmar workers going abroad increased dramatically, from 150,000 departures in 2017 to 230,000 in 2018 and 327,000 in 2019, according to data from the Labor Ministry.

Most migrant workers from Myanmar go to Thailand, where workers are paid 308 baht (US$10.14) to 330 baht per 8-hour shift, according to the country’s minimum wage laws. The second most popular destination is Malaysia, where migrant workers are paid 1,100 ringgits (US$270.95) per month.

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