The Lower House of Parliament will discuss a motion next week urging the National League for Democracy (NLD) government to provide greater protection for laborers, including domestic workers.
The move follows publicity created by recent abuse cases including that of two enslaved underage housemaids in the Ava tailor shop in downtown Rangoon. Other cases of torture and rights abuses have been reported across the country, concerning child workers in particular.
Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo, an NLD Lower House lawmaker from Rangoon’s Kyauktan constituency, proposed the motion on Thursday, urging the Union government to intervene in instances of forced labor and violence perpetrated by employers. The move also recommends that domestic workers require a permit to gain employment, in an effort to crack down on child labor and domestic enslavement.
“In order to prevent those vulnerable women and children from forced labor and torture, and to protect them by law, a workplace assessment should be done thoroughly,” Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo said. “It is an immediate need for them to be in a safe working environment.”
Disputes between employers and employees are frequent, as regulations go unenforced and employees often lack knowledge of their own rights, she explained in Thursday’s parliamentary session.
Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo also highlighted how problems can be created for both parties when no employment contract exists between domestic workers and their employers.
In Burma, there is no specific legislation protecting domestic workers, who are largely young girls and women, despite the fact that they are regarded as “paid workers” in accordance with the country’s Minimum Wage Law enacted in 2013.
Quoting a 2014 census figure, Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo said that around 22 million people in Burma make up the workforce, out of a population of more than 33 million over age 15.
According to Burma’s 1993 Child Law, children 14 to 18 years old are allowed to work no more than four hours per day and are entitled to protection.
Accustomed to a so-called tradition of having children work, either to support their own family businesses or to alleviate poverty, Burma has a huge number of underage workers in factories, teashops, sweatshops and in homes as maids.
Children between the ages of 10 and 17 years old are more than 800,000 in number in Burma. Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo referenced an independent survey suggesting that the number of working children, aged between 5 and 17 years old, had reached nearly 1.3 million. Amongst them, it is estimated that over 600,000 are in workplaces deemed dangerous.
Although Burma has been a member of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) since 1991—which intends to protect children from exploitation, dangerous workplaces and to ensure their educational, cultural and social rights—the lawmaker acknowledged that it is not yet possible to eliminate child labor in the country.
“But it is an immediate need to protect those who are in the workplace for various reasons,” she added, emphasizing the importance of raising awareness about labor rights.
U Thein Nyunt, a Rangoon lawyer and a former outspoken Lower House parliamentarian, said that the drafting of a protection law for domestic workers should have been done long ago. If a bill follows Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo’s motion, he said it must be effective in eliminating rights abuses, including torture and sexual assault.
“I have talked about it in past years, notably when there was a discussion about employment abroad and protection for [Burmese] housemaids who work in foreign countries,” he said. “Not only for domestic workers going abroad—the new law is needed for those working inside our country.”