Protesting workers call for minimum wage boost
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