Lawmakers Address Challenges in Preventing Worker Abuse, Exploitation

By Tin Htet Paing 23 November 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday discussed a proposal urging the government to enforce existing labor regulations in order to prevent the exploitation and abuse of domestic and child workers.

National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo of Rangoon’s Kyauktan constituency submitted the parliamentary proposal last week, stating that employers should only recruit workers who have labor registration. Her proposal also highlighted instances of underage forced labor and domestic enslavement in the country.

The move was driven by recent high-profile abuse cases highlighting the abuse of domestic workers, including that of two enslaved teenaged housemaids in the Ava tailor shop in downtown Rangoon.

While Burma does not have a specific law protecting domestic workers, there are several laws which impose regulations regarding labor and employment policy, including the Employment Restriction Act from 1959, the 2011 Labor Organization Law, and the Social Security Law and Minimum Wage Law, from 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Lawmaker U Maung Myint, representing Mingin Township, took the floor of the Parliament in support of the proposal. He said that the government should “carefully” regulate restrictions on employing workers with no labor registration, acknowledging that it is not yet possible to eliminate child labor Burma.

“There would be a lot of workers who would become jobless if employers must stop recruiting workers with no labor registration,” he said, citing the fact that such registration is only entitled to workers who have reached the minimum age of eighteen. Many parents allow their minor children to work due to tough family financial situations, he added.

However, U Maung Myint encouraged the government to enact a more specific law that would prevent abuse and torture perpetrated against workers by their employers. While strong employment relationships and trust remain key to a healthy working environment, he explained that only the enforcement of regulations can bring about fair and substantial improvement to working conditions.

“Unlawful acts against workers are evidence that there is no mutual respect and trust between employers and employees,” he said.

According Burma’s 2014 census, the employment rate of the country’s working-age population of nearly 33 million people aged 15-64 is 64.4 percent—over 21 million. Additionally, one in five children in Burma aged 10-17 goes to work instead of school according to the country’s census report on employment published in March 2016.

Lawmaker Daw Mya Khwar Nyo Oo from Bago Division’s Shwe Taung Township expanded the discussion by saying that most workers lack awareness of the existing labor laws, which resulted in exploitation by their employers.

Many workers migrate from rural areas to cities in order to seek job opportunities and they are not aware of their legal rights. Many others may endure exploitative conditions even though they are aware they are being mistreated, due to job scarcity.

Employment contracts and an assessment of workplaces should be carried out, Daw Mya Khwar Nyo Oo suggested, adding that awareness raising campaigns for labor rights also plays an important role in tackling abuses, she added.

A total of six lawmakers discussed the proposal and all urged the government to strictly enforce existing labor laws, to assess if employers follow such rules, and to make sure inspectors who assess workplaces do not submit to corruption or bribery.

Minister of Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe admitted in the Parliament that his ministry had difficulty handling official registration for domestic and underage workers although it provides labor registration for workers aged 18 and up through 78 branch offices across the country.

“This weakness exists due to the practice of hiring domestic workers, which directly happens between recruiters and workers,” he responded. “Or some people hire their minor relatives as housemaids by giving them salary and letting them stay with them.”

Such practices make it challenging for officials to inspect households and to check of domestic workers have standard working hours and are provided legal rights, he explained. The minister, however, also acknowledged that there is no specific law for domestic workers so far and that such a law needs to be enacted.

Although the Minimum Wage Law was enacted in 2013, the National Minimum Wage Determination Committee announced in June 2015 that the minimum daily payment for one day’s work was 3,600 kyats (US$2.75), calculated at a rate of 450 kyats ($0.35) per hour for an eight-hour workday.

Lower House speaker U Win Myint concluded the discussion by pointing out that the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population had been trying to tackle the issues at hand and that the proposal should be documented in the parliamentary discussion report.