Protest­ing work­ers call for min­i­mum wage boost

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - ZAW ZAW HTWE za­wza­whtwe@mm­

In a march on Novem­ber 20, over 2000 pro­test­ers called on the govern­ment to lift the min­i­mum daily wage from K3600 to K5600 to keep up with ris­ing cost of liv­ing.

MORE than 2000 fac­tory work­ers staged a protest this week­end in Yan­gon’s Hlaing Thar­yar town­ship, de­mand­ing that the govern­ment in­crease the daily min­i­mum wage in light of ris­ing costs of liv­ing and in­fla­tion.

“Un­less some­thing is done to stop in­creases to liv­ing ex­penses, soon work­ers will be un­able to sur­vive,” said Ma Hla Hla, a union rep­re­sen­ta­tive who led the protest.

“We have re­cently seen cases of sui­cide of peo­ple who could not pro­vide enough money for their fam­i­lies. We want the govern­ment to act quickly to raise the min­i­mum wage,” she added.

The pro­test­ers called on the govern­ment to lift the min­i­mum daily wage from K3600 (US$2.78) to K5600, an in­crease of al­most 56 per­cent.

Ris­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion costs were high­lighted as a key jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the pro­posed wage in­crease.

According to Ma Hla Hla, it costs around K40,000 to K50,000 per month to rent an 8-foot-by-8foot bed­room in Hlaing Thar­yar town­ship. At th­ese rates, work­ers would need to work be­tween 11 and 14 days a month just to cover their rent, be­fore fac­tor­ing in food, health and other ex­penses.

The prob­lem is ex­ac­er­bated by land­lords’ re­cent steps to re­strict the max­i­mum oc­cu­pancy of th­ese rooms to two peo­ple in­stead of four, which was pre­vi­ously per­mit­ted.

Ma Hla Hla also said the cur­rent min­i­mum wage does not al­low work­ers to af­ford proper health­care and other nec­es­sary so­cial ser­vices.

“The US dol­lar is on the rise and the cost of liv­ing in our coun­try is di­rectly tied to the US ex­change rate. In­fla­tion for the Myan­mar kyat is at 8pc to 12pc. It is true our work­ers are fac­ing a cri­sis,” said Cen­tral Ar­bi­tra­tion Coun­cil mem­ber U Ye Naing Win.

U Ye Naing Win also called for greater clar­ity sur­round­ing the coun­try’s min­i­mum wage law.

On Novem­ber 20, pro­test­ers marched from the Yoe Gyi bus stop to the Tha Ma Gone round­about and then kept march­ing to the Yone Shae bus stop, a site close to the town­ship’s ad­min­is­tra­tion depart­ment.

Hlaing Thar­yar town­ship, where the protest took place, is an in­dus­trial hub on the out­skirts of Yan­gon and is home to many of the coun­try’s largest fac­to­ries.

A list of 16 de­mands were made by the pro­test­ers in­clud­ing greater worker par­tic­i­pa­tion in elec­tions to the Yan­gon Re­gional Ar­bi­tra­tion Coun­cil, bet­ter pro­tec­tion for mi­grant work­ers, and the im­po­si­tion of jail terms for em­ploy­ers who fail to fol­low the di­rec­tives and de­ci­sions of the Cen­tral Ar­bi­tra­tion Coun­cil.

The chair of the Yan­gon In­dus­trial Zone Com­mit­tee, U Aye Thaung, last month told China’s Xin­hua News that there had been dis­cus­sions with a num­ber of busi­nesses re­gard­ing min­i­mum wage in­creases.

He also said th­ese dis­cus­sions would con­tinue in the hope of in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage some­time in 2017.

The per­ma­nent sec­re­tary of the Min­istry of Labour, U Myo Aung, said the govern­ment would re­view the min­i­mum daily wage, but added there is no cur­rent plan to in­crease it to the amount the work­ers are de­mand­ing.

U Than Myint, the min­is­ter for com­merce and trade, said that work­ers should raise their con­cerns with their lo­cal MPs but sig­nalled that the coun­try’s abil­ity to com­pete in a global set­ting may act as a bar­rier to any fu­ture raise.

“In Asia, only Myan­mar and Bangladesh have not in­creased the min­i­mum wage sub­stan­tially and this is why for­eign in­vestors come here. If we in­crease wages, th­ese in­vestors won’t come. The min­i­mum wage should only be in­creased grad­u­ally, in con­sul­ta­tions be­tween em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees,” he said.

Myan­mar set its first min­i­mum wage at K3600 per day in Septem­ber 2015. Labour union mem­bers had said at the time of wage ne­go­ti­a­tions that K4000 was the bare min­i­mum they could sur­vive on to keep up with in­fla­tion.

‘In­fla­tion for the Myan­mar kyat is at 8 per­cent to 12pc. It is true our work­ers are fac­ing a cri­sis.’

U Ye Naing Win Cen­tral Ar­bi­tra­tion Coun­cil

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