Skilled work­ers lured abroad, leav­ing a gap

The un­abated mi­gra­tion of skilled labour to other coun­tries is se­ri­ously hurt­ing lo­cal con­struc­tion firms, which have to rely on trainees.

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Front Page - ZAW ZAW HTWE za­wza­[email protected]­ NOVEM­BER 30, 2018

DAW Hay Mar, a trader, can only shake her head when talk­ing about the high ex­penses she in­curred in con­struct­ing a stor­age build­ing and work­ers quar­ters be­cause of poor work­man­ship.

She said her night­mare started when she hired a group of con­struc­tion work­ers in her neigh­bour­hood for the job.

Daw Hay Mar said the build­ing they erected looked like a patch­work of con­crete and steel, so she asked an­other set of work­ers to redo the job, dou­bling her ex­penses.

“We hired them as we are neigh­bours, and I thought that since they are work­ing in heavy con­struc­tion sites they have the ba­sic skills to con­struct a sim­ple build­ing,” Daw Hay Mar said.

Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try in­sid­ers, the coun­try’s con­struc­tion in­dus­try is suf­fer­ing a se­vere short­age of skilled work­ers, such as engi­neers, brick­lay­ers, ma­son, car­pen­ters, as most highly trained work­ers have sought bet­ter­pay­ing jobs abroad.

Skilled work­ers who are still in the coun­try are work­ing full-time for big con­struc­tion firms, which have on­go­ing projects.

Ko Han Si, an elec­tri­cal worker, has been a daily wage worker for Town­ship Elec­tric­ity Sup­ply Cor­po­ra­tion in Yan­gon Re­gion for over four years, and is now ready to leave for work abroad de­spite hav­ing to leave be­hind his wife and one-year-old son.

“Here, we have no hol­i­days. I only earn K4800 (US$3) a day. If I work abroad, I will get a much higher salary and I don’t have to shoul­der the cost of daily liv­ing ex­penses so I can send money back to my fam­ily,” he said.

Ko Han Si said he will be do­ing the same job he is do­ing now as an elec­tri­cal worker for a con­struc­tion com­pany where his friend has worked for over five years now. He will be paid US$560 a month, much more than the US$90 he gets at his present job.

An­other con­struc­tion worker, Ko Min Thurein, who works in South Ko­rea, earns about 150,000 won (K213,000) a day. He said he will work there for two years more to save money, al­though his em­ploy­ment con­tract has ex­pired.

Ko Min Thurein, from Sit­twe Town­ship in Rakhine State, said he went to Seoul un­der the Em­ploy­ment Per­mit Sys­tem (EPS) agree­ment be­tween Myan­mar and South Ko­rea, which pro­vides a five-year con­tract.

“I de­cided to con­tinue work­ing here be­cause I have to take care of my fam­ily,” he said.

He said that work­ing at high-rise con­struc­tion sites in South Ko­rea is dif­fer­ent from work­ing at sim­i­lar ones in Myan­mar.

Ko Min Thurein said he feels safe work­ing in South Ko­rea be­cause of the fa­cil­i­ties and equip­ment they use on the con­struc­tion site.

The num­ber of Myan­mar na­tion­als who want to work in South Ko­rea is in­creas­ing. About 30,000 prospec­tive work­ers sit for the Korean lan­guage pro­fi­ciency test un­der the EPS ev­ery year.

Most work­ers go­ing to South Ko­rea pre­fer to work in the con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries be­cause of the higher pay.

Ac­cord­ing to the Myan­mar Min­istry of Labour, about 25,000 Myan­mar work­ers leave each month for the eight coun­tries with which the gov­ern­ment has labour agree­ments. Thou­sands more leave to work in coun­tries where the gov­ern­ment does not al­low cit­i­zens to work.

Most Myan­mar mi­grant work­ers go to Thai­land – an es­ti­mated 20,000 ev­ery month.

U Kyaw Zaw, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Myan­mar Over­seas Em­ploy­ment Agen­cies Fed­er­a­tion, said there is a strong de­mand for con­struc­tion work­ers in Thai­land be­cause of the ex­pan­sion of the coun­try’s tourism sec­tor, which has re­sulted in the con­struc­tion of more ho­tels.

There is also strong de­mand among gar­ment fac­to­ries in Thai­land, which waive the bro­ker fees of skilled work­ers they hire, U Kyaw Zaw said.

“Mi­gra­tion is based on money. The value of Myan­mar’s cur­rency is lower than Thai­land’s, which is why Myan­mar work­ers go to Thai­land,” U Kyaw Zaw said.

Lo­cal con­struc­tion firms ad­mit hav­ing dif­fi­culty match­ing the fa­cil­i­ties, ben­e­fits, and salaries of­fered by for­eign com­pa­nies.

“We have work­ers who could be skilled labour­ers and lead­ers, but they work here just to get ex­pe­ri­ence, then they go to South Ko­rea to work. So we lose them after they ac­quire skills,” said elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer Daw Phoo Wai Wai Thaw, owner of Wai-elec­tri­cal Group In­stal­la­tion and En­gi­neer­ing.

New en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates also work for lo­cal com­pa­nies just to build up their port­fo­lios. After that, they go abroad for the bet­ter pay and ben­e­fits.

“It is not true that they are go­ing abroad be­cause don’t want to use and share their skills in Myan­mar. They leave the coun­try be­cause they need to take care of their fam­i­lies,” Daw Phoo Wai Wai Thaw said.

Con­trac­tors ad­mit build­ing projects are be­ing de­layed be­cause of the skilled-labour short­age, which forces them to rely on trainee work­ers.

After the trans­for­ma­tion of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in Myan­mar in 1988, the pro­duc­tion of skilled engi­neers de­clined, al­though there were more en­gi­neer­ing uni­ver­si­ties, U Yan Aung, gen­eral man­ager of Asia Builders con­struc­tion com­pany, said.

He said that more prac­ti­cal train­ing of work­ers is needed at en­gi­neer­ing uni­ver­si­ties.

“The con­struc­tion in­dus­try would grow again if we could give enough train­ing to gen­eral work­ers,” U Yan Aung said.

U Yan Aung said the lo­cal con­struc­tion in­dus­try can­not com­pete for skilled labour­ers with the fa­cil­i­ties and wages of­fered by com­pa­nies abroad.

Ef­forts by the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­men­tal groups to up­grade work­ers’ skills have been un­able to fill the do­mes­tic de­mand for skilled labour.

At the fore­front of the gov­ern­ment’s skills pro­gramme is the Myan­mar Na­tional Skills Stan­dards Au­thor­ity (NSSA) founded in 2007, which has pro­grammes to up­grade skills in 23 in­dus­tries.

But only about 8000 work­ers have been tested and is­sued skilled labour cer­tifi­cates by the NSSA so far, 2000 of them in the gar­ment sec­tor.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey of the coun­try’s work­force, 22 mil­lion peo­ple are el­i­gi­ble to work, Labour Min­is­ter U Thein Swe said.

NSSA of­fi­cials and con­trac­tors said that many of Myan­mar’s skilled work­ers have missed job op­por­tu­ni­ties in con­struc­tion and fac­to­ries be­cause they failed to get skilled labour cer­tifi­cates from the NSSA.

U Ko Ko Naing, an ad­viser to the Ger­man Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Co­op­er­a­tion, which pro­vides sup­port to the NSSA, said that while there are many skilled work­ers avail­able, for­eign com­pa­nies would not hire them be­cause they do not have NSSA cer­tifi­cates.

“Also, some of our work­ers mi­grate to other coun­tries when they have ac­quired skills,” he said.

Al­though there are many free or paid vo­ca­tional train­ing cour­ses in the coun­try, work­ers have dif­fi­culty at­tend­ing them be­cause they have to work long hours to sur­vive.

Un­less the gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor find ways to ad­dress the skilled labour short­age, the coun­try’s econ­omy may re­main in the dol­drums and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment will re­main a pipe dream.

to ‘open their own shop’”. The firm in­vests in ed­u­cat­ing dig­i­tal users on mo­bile in­ter­net us­age, in­clud­ing ac­count regis­tra­tion, prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy, in­ven­tory man­age­ment, chat com­mu­ni­ca­tion and on­line pay­ment.

To start off with, Bar­lolo’s pri­or­i­ties are health and beauty prod­ucts and fash­ion and mo­bile ac­ces­sories, but the plat­form re­cently also re­ceived a grow­ing in­ter­est in books.

Dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion Myan­mar is on track to see ac­cel­er­ated dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion in the next five years, U Min Min in­sisted.

“Smart­phone pen­e­tra­tion is al­ready reach­ing 66pc, higher than the APAC av­er­age of 53pc. Fur­ther­more, 4G speed is reach­ing well over 10 Mbps. Lo­cal banks have be­gun fo­cus­ing their ef­forts on mo­bile bank­ing.

Photo: Nyan Zay Htet

Yan­gon’s Inya Lake, from the Se­dona Ho­tel on Oc­to­ber 10.

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