Calls for further protection for migrant workers
MYANMAR’S preeminent trade union confederation has called on the government to take action to protect migrant workers from exploitation and unfair treatment abroad.
Daw Htwe Htwe Thein, a director of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), called for stronger regulation of employment agents who recruit and send Myanmar nationals to work overseas.
Of the difficulties faced by migrant workers, Daw Htwe Htwe Thein said, “Most migrant workers travel abroad illegally. Many of them are from the rural areas and have very little knowledge, meaning that they are heavily reliant on brokers. They often pay large sums of money to these brokers.”
“Some workers who initially travel and work legally eventually become illegal because they overstay their visas in order to earn enough money to pay back the fees they owe to brokers. Many of those who return also have debts that they owe to brokers,” she added.
In addition to incurring debt, many migrant workers also face dire working conditions in the countries they travel to. Many are unaware of their rights, as the case of exploited chicken farm workers in Thailand recently illustrated.
The Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) sent more than 100,000 workers overseas last year and has sent over 80,000 so far this year, according to MOAEF office head U Tun Tun Wai.
“Malaysia is the second-biggest destination for Myanmar migrant workers after Thailand, where around 58,000 workers have been sent so far this year,” he said. Workers are also sent in large numbers to Singapore, Japan, Macau and the United Arab Emirates.
Last month MOEAF released a code of conduct, developed with assistance from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which was designed to improve migrant working conditions.
But Daw Htwe Htwe Thein did not offer an overly optimistic assessment of the future success of the industry-based code. “We will have to wait and see whether the agencies will actually follow the rules or not,” she said.
In response to the CTUM’s calls, U Thein Win, an official from the Department of Migrant Affairs, said there have been laws relating to overseas employment in place since 1999.
He added, however, that the government has been working for the past two years to update this legislation to better align with international standards.
“We are working together with many experts such as the ILO to amend this law. We are trying our best to finish it as soon as possible and hopefully we may be able to finish within this year,” he said.