Myanmar workers march to call for minimum wage rise

About 2,000 factory workers march for a higher basic wage in Yangon on Sunday. (Myanmar Times photo)

About 2,000 workers have marched for a daily minimum wage increase and also called on the government to provide them with social welfare housings.

The workers from the factories of Yangon, Bago and Thanlyin industrial zones on Sunday also asked authorities to impose penalty of imprisonment against employers who ignore the rules and orders of arbitration councils in labour disputes. The workers also wanted authorities to respect their rights to freely organise unions.

“We have been asking for 5,600 kyat (137 baht) to be minimum wages since 2013 but the government approved only 3,600 kyat as minimum wages. This can’t cover our cost of living,” Ma Hla Hla, a protest organiser and a committee member of the Myanmar Labour Unions Network, told the .

She also said that although the Ministry of Labour has to review and set a new daily minimum wage once every two years, according to the law, it failed to carry out this mandate until now.

“The new minimum daily wage will be set up in 2018. Now, it has taken over two years beyond the period set by the law. So, labour minister itself violates the minimum daily wages law,’’ Ma Hla Hla said.

Workers who were terminated from their jobs illegally were not rehired even after the order of the arbitration councils; instead, the employers just pay fines for violating the legal order, Ma Hha Hha added.

“That is why we also want penalties to those who violate the arbitration council orders to include imprisonment for these errant employers,” Ma Hla Hla said.

Ma Thin Thin Lay, a garment factory worker, said that the current 3,600 kyat minimum wage is not enough as she is already paying 60,000 kyat monthly to rent a chamber room near the factory.

According to workers and locals, there are a lot of chamber rooms that are for rent in Hlaing Tharyar but workers have to pay between 50,000 and 80,000 kyat monthly for a 9-square-foot room which does not have a bathroom.

“The wages in Myanmar is very much lower than other Asian countries. Even if the wages would be increased to 5,600 kyat, it is still lower than the wages in our neighbouring countries. Our government should give 5,600 kyat we are demanding,” said Ma Thet Htet Aung, the labour rights activist from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society.

She also said that most of youths are choosing to work in foreign countries because of the very low wages of Myanmar nowadays. According to the political think tanks, Myanmar has been losing the good human resources, she added.

“I am not satisfied with the current process of minimum daily wages committee of the government. Even the regional committees haven’t started their reviews until now. Their process are delayed,” said Ko Naw Aung, the vice chair of Myanmar Industries Craft and Service Trade Union Federation and also a worker representative in the government’s minimum wage committee.

The Myanmar government has set up 3,600 kyat as the minimum daily wages in September 2015 despite the demand of the workers as early as 2013 to peg the minimum wage at 5,600 kyat.

But, there are many employers who do not pay the daily minimum wage of 3,600 kyat to the workers till now. Many employers pay only 1,700 kyat as daily wage to the internship workers for three months and then 2,600 kyat to the workers who are in three-month probation period, according to workers and labour rights groups.

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