Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Nation: Thais jailed over migrant deaths in 2008

The Nation reports:
A court in Ranong province has sentenced four Thais to up to 10 years in prison for their involvement in the deaths of 54 illegal workers from Myanmar who suffocated to death inside a seafood container in 2008. Myanmarese workers have long been required by the Thai labour market, particularly in the fishery and construction sectors, while Myanmar people want to land jobs in Thailand due to the higher income.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

MAP report: Regular Rights

The MAP Foundation has released a new report titled "Regular Rights: Do Documents Improve Migrants Lives?", which details the situation of migrants in Thailand.  The report can be downloaded here.

From the intro:
Regular Rights is a project set up by MAP Foundation in January 2012 to support migrant workers from Burma to compare and analyse the benefits and drawbacks of three different migration statuses, namely being undocumented, being registered with a migrant workers card and holding a Temporary Passport through the Nationality verification process. 195 undocumented workers, 137 migrant workers holding migrant workers cards and 161 migrants holding Nationality verification temporary passports completed questionnaires about their living and working conditions in Chiang Mai, Mae Sot and Mahachai. In addition, migrants in Chiang Mai, Mae Sot, Mahachai and Phang Nga participated in 12 workshops on nationality verification, social security and the MOU process to learn more about these processes and share their own experiences. This paper summarises the views and experiences of the migrants who participated in the activities and is the first of a series of proposed papers.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Democratic Voice of Burma: Academics say anti-union campaign continues

DVB provides an update of the transfer of academics involved in union organising.
Pro-union lecturers at Rangoon University are being transferred to different institutions across Burma in what the professors say is a deliberate move to undercut unions.

Confusion over registration extension

According to The Nation, the Thai Ministry of Labour has stated that there is no plan to provide a 3-month extension for migrant worker registration in Thailand, as had been previously reported.
The fate of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand is hanging in the balance as labour ministers of the two countries fail to reach common ground over the extension of nationality verification.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The migrant registration deadline (and its extension)

There have been a bunch of articles recently regarding the 14 December 2012 deadline for registration of migrants in Thailand.
  • An excellent Mizzima interview (14 December) with Jackie Pollack of the MAP foundation about the implications of the registration deadline.
  •  A VOA article (14 December)about the ILO urging the Thai government to extend the deadline.
  • A report in the Phuket News (15 December) stating that unregistered migrants will be deported starting 14 December.
  • An article in the Myanmar Times about Myanmar president U Thein Sein urging Thai PM Yingluk Shinawatra to extend the registration deadline.
  • A brief notice by The Irrawaddy (17 December) that the registration deadline has been extended for three months.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Workers struggles in Myanmar (November 2012)

Sparticus' list of links to articles on labour struggles in Myanmar (via

Raids, arrests and deportations of migrants in Thailand

Factory raids and mass arrests of undocumented workers in Thailand began yesterday as Thai authorities had said in advance.

On 13 December, VOA reported that
Thailand is threatening to deport more than a million migrant workers, most of them from Burma, if they do not complete required documentation by a December 14 deadline. Rights groups say the nationality verification process, while aimed at providing legal protection, is being exploited by corrupt officials, brokers and employers to further abuse vulnerable migrants.Thai authorities in charge of regulating migrant labor had pushed back previous deadlines for foreign workers to become documented.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Response to FTUB organised meeting in Yangon

Phophtaw News Agency reports that the Myanmar Industrial Trade Union (MITU) rejected an invitation from the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) to attend a meeting in Yangon this December with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which is visiting with the plan to set up an office in Myanmar. MITU chairperson U Ye Kyaw Thu stated that the reason for rejecting FTUB's invitation is that FTUB "has no position in Myanmar".  This follows an 8 October statement by the Agricultural and Farmers Federation of Myanmar (AFFM) in which the association said that it "will not become a member of FTUB because they [AFFM member organisations] don’t want to be under their control."  Furthermore, AFFM chairperson Daw Than Than Htay stated that the FTUB's statement that the AFFM was under FTUB was not true.
အျပည္ျပည္ ဆိုင္ရာ အလုပ္သမား သမဂၢမ်ား အဖဲြ႕ခ်ဳပ္ (ITUC) အစည္းအေ၀း အတြက္ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ အလုပ္ သမား သမဂၢမ်ား အဖြဲ႔ခ်ဳပ္ (FTUB) အဖြဲ႔၏ ဖိတ္ၾကားခ်က္ကို ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ စက္မႈဇုန္ အလုပ္သမားမ်ား သမဂ(MITU) မွ ပယ္ ခ်ခဲ့သည္ဟု ဥကၠ႒ ဦးရဲေက်ာ္သူက ဆိုပါသည္။

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Persecution of union members in Mandalay

DVB reports:
Leading members of the University Lecturers’ Union in Mandalay have been transferred to several institutions across Burma in what they claim is a deliberate move by education officials who dislike unions. Among those being transferred are professors from Mandalay University, University of Distance Education and Foreign Languages University in Mandalay who are members of the University Lecturers Union that was officially registered and recognised by the Labour Department in June.

Myanmar migrants will definitely receive the minimum wage?

The Pattaya Mail reports:
Myanmar migrant workers who have already passed the nationality verification process are entitled to receive Thailand’s Bt300 minimum wage, the same rate as Thai workers under Thai law, according to Vice Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Anusorn Kraiwatnussorn. Mr Anusorn said after meeting with visiting Myanmar Deputy Minister for Labour Myint Thein that he told Myint Thein to inform the Myanmar workers who wanted to work legally in Thailand that they would definitely receive Bt300 minimum wage, the same rate as Thai workers.

Impending deportation of undocumented migrants

The Thai government is scheduled to deport undocumented Myanmar workers en masse when the 14 December 2012 deadline for registration arrives:

Bangkok Post reports:
An estimated 1 million legal and illegal migrant workers from Myanmar who have yet to apply for nationality verification ahead of the Dec 14 deadline could face deportation. Despite the large numbers, the Employment Department will close all national verification centres and deport migrant workers who fail to undergo the verification process by Dec 14.
See also an article from The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar migrants in Malaysia

Khabar Southeast Asia reports on Myanmar migrant workers in Malaysia:
Foreign workers are a boon to the service industry due to a lack of local manpower, says Endrew Wong, 41, the co-owner of Chi Hao Dian. Yet Malaysia's large foreign workforce is a relatively new phenomenon.
Back in 1991, migrant workers were unheard of, save for those in higher management, Wong said. But now five-star hotels almost exclusively employ non-Malaysians for stewarding and housekeeping jobs.

Pay discrepency between local and foreign workers in Myanmar

The Myanmar Times reports on pay discrepancies between Myanmar and Chinese nationals working on the Rakhine State gas pipeline:
Myanmar engineers taking part in training in China before working on a pipeline project have expressed frustration over what they say are unfair differences in pay between Myanmar and Chinese workers.... The Myanmar workers say the Chinese trainees are receiving wages almost three times higher during the training period and five times higher after they start work.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Myanmar, the last frontier?

Forbes reports on what some international investors believe to be "a great opportunity for investment and growth" in Myanmar.  The article has some useful statistics on the country's labour force:
The country has a labor force of 31.68 million, out of a population of 60 million. Unfortunately it’s unskilled with 70% employed in agriculture. Only 7% work in industry. While a low wage structure may attract manufacturers, the lack of skilled workers will limit scope to basic products. The country’s human capital is a key component to future growth. 25% of the population is below working age, and only 7.7% over the age of 65, this compares to China with 20% and 11.5% respectively. However “the country is the only developing Asian country with a defense budget greater than the education and health budgets combined.” [Asian Development Bank report] The government spends less that 2.0% of GDP on education and health.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Trafficked Burmese migrants released in Thailand

Democratic Voice of Burma reports:
Burmese nationals who were being forced to work long hours for little pay at a shrimp factory in Thailand’s Samut Prakan province were released after their trafficker was arrested in Burma.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Striking workers attacked in Yangon

The Irrawaddy (5 Nov 2012) reports:
Six striking workers from Taw Win carpentry factory, in Rangoon’s Shwepyitha Township, have been admitted to the city’s Insein Hospital after a brawl on Saturday.

Australia Calls for Higher Labor Standards in Burma

The Irrawaddy (2 Nov 2012) reports:
Australia’s government says Burma must do more to ensure that workers in the country are not exploited as international investors crowd in to take advantage of its newly liberalized economy. “You can’t have a successful economy where the workers are getting totally mistreated,” said Minister for Workplace Relations and Financial Services Bill Shorten, who has just completed a trip to Burma as head of a delegation of business and community leaders. According to a report by Radio Australia, Shorten also expressed concern about treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State.

Migrants poisoned by ‘generator fumes’

Phuket News (5 Nov 2012) reports:
One Burmese laborer is dead and four others are still in hospital after they spent the night guarding a construction site property, including a running generator in a closed room, police say... According to the police report, the generator was running in a room with no air circulation, and the windows and doors were closed. Police believe that a buildup of toxic fumes from the generator killed the man and seriously injured the four others.

Myanmar migrants in Malaysia

Bernama news (via The Malaysian Insider) provides statistics on the number of registered Myanmar migrant workers in Malaysia.
As of last July, more than 1.58 million foreign workers were registered to work in the country, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said today. He said the number represented those who were legally employed and had obtained a Visit Pass (Temporary Employment) as issued by the Immigration Department. “Indonesia tops the list of the five countries whose workers are registered to work in Malaysia, with 767,590, followed by Nepal (279,421), Myanmar (137,784), Bangladesh (134,148) and India (91,222) from India,” he said.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Violence between Thai and Myanmar workers

The Bangkok Post reports ("Workers clash in Ayutthaya camp") on fighting between Thai workers and Myanmar migrant workers at a work camp in Ayuttaya:
One Thai and two Myanmar workers were seriously injured during a clash at a camp site in tambon Nong Nam Sai, Phachi district, Ayutthaya province last night, district chief Withit Pinnikorn said on Monday.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Can manufacturing succeed In Myanmar?

Forbes reports on potential developments in Myanmar's light manufacturing sector. The article reports that the 2011 strike wave pushed the government to set a temporary minimum wage. I note that this fits with what Federico Deyo refers to as a "politics of social disorder" where autonomous industrial actions, if sufficiently extensive, can achieve broader political objectives than the immediate grievances articulated by workers in a given struggle.
The ongoing quest for low cost production has drawn manufacturers’ attention to a small Southeast Asian nation [Myanmar] that has been out of the sourcing network for nearly a decade.

Migrants subscribe to social security in Thailand

The Nation reports on the registration of migrants for social security in Thailand:
Only 217,972 immigrant workers who registered their nationalities subscribed to the Social Security Office (SSO) to receive the same seven benefits as Thai workers, SSO chief Jeerasak Sukhonthachart said yesterday.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

ASSK's push to liberalize markets

The Institutional Investor states it clearly: With Aung San Suu Kyi's push for market liberalisation, “The next few years will be revolutionary years in Myanmar” for foreign and domestic companies.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

200,000 Burmese face deportation from Thailand

The Irrawaddy reports on the Thai government's planned deportation of unregistered migrant workers in December 2012, when the deadline for temporary passport registration will pass.
About 200,000 illegal Burmese migrant workers are among some 400,000 illegal foreign workers who are due to be deported back to their respected countries in December this year, according to a report by the Bangkok Post, a Thailand-based newspaper.

Monday, 15 October 2012

ITUC to open office in Myanmar

The Myanmar Times reports on the ITUC's plans to open an office in Myanmar:
The International Trade Union Confederation plans to open an office in Myanmar to help workers improve their skills, the confederation’s general secretary said last week.

Taw Win workers strike over ‘unfair’ managers

 The Myanmar Times reports on a strike of timber factory workers in Yangon:
Hundreds of workers from Taw Win timber factory protested outside the Taw Win headquarters on Yangon’s U Wisara Road last week, calling for a meeting with the company’s managing director to discuss their grievances.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Controlling the flow of migrant workers

Bernama News reports on the Thai government's promotion of government-to-government labour migration agreements.
Thailand plans to import migrant workers under government-to-government (G-to-G) agreements, beginning with those from neighbouring Myanmar... the G-to-G labour import will save time and money, and that the number of imported workers will be based on demand from the local private sector. Meanwhile, the National Fisheries Association of Thailand has sought an official permission to bring in about 50,000 foreign workers and the Thai government's committee on foreigners' work has approved its import of workers from Bangladesh. The association however, according to the committee, must work out regulations on the employment of foreign workers and to draft measures to prevent foreign workers from leaving the Thai fishing industry for other kinds of jobs. Thai Labour Minister Padermchai Sasomsap noted that to prevent human trafficking, the import of workers for the Thai fishing industry will be the sole responsibility of the National Fisheries Association of Thailand and local employers are required to have standard and annual employment contracts for the migrant workers.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Will migrants return any time soon?

Will developments in Myanmar lead to a sudden return of migrants from Thailand? I don't expect any sudden shift in the next 5 years, and only gradually after that point. On this subject, ChannelNewsAsia reports:
[Suu Kyi] called on [migrant workers] to return home. That call, plus the opening Myanmar economy, means Thailand could lose a large number of lower-skilled labourers... Myanmar is opening up and more job opportunities will be created for them, but if a large number of Myanmar nationals decide to go back home, it could cause a labour shortage for Thailand... another seafood wholesaler is more optimistic, believing that many will not go back if their employers have treated them fairly.

Travel restrictions on Mae Sot migrants

The Irrawaddy has details of the travel restrictions on migrants trying to leave Mae Sot. (See here for an earlier statement by MAP Foundation about this.)
Migrant rights groups say that thousands of Burmese workers living in the Thai border town of Mae Sot have been prevented from leaving to search for work elsewhere in Thailand, despite possessing legal work permits that allow them to do so. Yaung Chi Oo, a Mae Sot-based advocacy group that works to protect the rights of Burmese migrant workers, said that factory owners in the town have colluded with local Thai authorities to detain and return workers who attempt to travel to other parts of the country.

Murder of migrants by cop/boss

Reports of Myanmar migrant workers allegedly murdered by a police employer. "Worker shows shooting site," The Nation, 27 September 2012
Kala, the Myanmar man who allegedly worked for police doctor Pol Colonel Supat Laohawattana for years and said he had been tortured by his boss and forced to bury other workers, was summoned by the police yesterday to identify the spot where a couple were allegedly shot.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Striking gold miners charged

The Myanmar Times reports:
Seventeen workers from a restive gold mining region in Mandalay’s Yamethin township have been charged with committing an obscene act and criminal intimidation following an altercation earlier this month with security staff from Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company.

State of the Myanmar garment industry

The Myanmar Times reports on the state of the garment industry in Myanmar:
[Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association] president U Myit Soe said: “The countries that sell raw materials to Myanmar, such as Singapore and Malaysia, are geographically distant from our export markets in Japan and South Korea, which increases production time. As we are constantly under pressure to meet deadlines, workers are forced to work long hours and overtime payments are low.” He said Myanmar produces low quality garments due to a lack of skilled workers and total earnings amount to about 10 or 15 percent of an item’s total export value. “We are paid a ‘sewing fee’ – we do not design the clothes and we must import the raw materials too,” he added... “We’ve tried hard to develop the skills of our workers. But once the skills are acquired, workers often quit and move to factories along the Chinese and Thai borders in search of better pay. We are yet to get the high turnover rate under control,” she added.

Remittance service for migrants

Mizzima reportson the introduction of Western Union services to transfer into Myanmar:
The Western Union Company will offer international money remittance services in Burma in collaboration with Myanmar Oriental Bank (MOB) to facilitate overseas transfers of money back to Burma, according to a company press release. The remittance service will be provided by the US- based company through a joint agreement with MOB starting at the end of the month. The deal covers only incoming remittance. Outbound transfers will follow later... Burmese workers abroad have traditionally relied on the Hundi network, an informal international remittance network to transfer money back to their families at home.

New book on Myanmar migrants in Mae Sot

The Nation reports on the release of "Thailand's Hidden Workforce" (Zed Books, 2012) co-authored by Kyoko Kusakabe:
Kusakabe is associate professor in gender and development at the Asian Institute of Technology on the outskirts of Bangkok. Her interest in gendered mobility and migration in the Greater Mekong Sub-region brought her together with Pearson to expose the harsh realities of the migrant labour. "Thailand's Hidden Workforce" focuses on labour issues affecting specifically migrant women workers from Myanmar toiling away in garment factories mainly in Mae Sot in Tak province and the Three Pagoda Pass in Sangkhlaburi. Mae Sot hosts the largest number of women workers from neighbouring Myanmar. Through her book, Kusakabe tries to lift the lid on the realities faced by women in garment factories where the conditions are "exploitative and difficult.

HRW's Ad Hoc and Inadequate

The recently released Human Rights Watch report Ad Hoc and Inadequate: Thailand’s Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers has information about the situation of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand and refugees living outside the camps.

Migrant film to be screened in October

Zin Yaw Maung Maung film "The Moon Lotus" about Myanmar migrant workers will be screened in Thailand starting in October 2012. According to The Nation "The romantic drama, adapted from Khin Khin Htoo's novel of the same name, is a story about unrequited love between two college students who are separated for years."

Friday, 7 September 2012

Myanmar new gov't creates job opportunities for 450,000 people

China's Global Times reports on the job market in Myanmar:
Myanmar's new government has created job opportunities for 450,000 people during its one and a half year's tenure since taking office in March 2011... Small and medium enterprises such as garment and footwear factories, which account for 90 percent of local and foreign investment, brought most job opportunities for the people... The government is giving priority to investors who invest in those projects that can create most job opportunities for the locals. There are 14 million people at home and abroad unemployed, accounting for 23 percent of the overall population... Meanwhile, a large number of Myanmar youth graduates of various nationalities from both urban and rural areas are working abroad... The growing number of migrant workers is attributed to the lack of jobs and inadequacy of families, high cost of living, lack of health care guarantee, lack of workers rights and exploitation over salaries by employers and brokers, it was blamed... In March, Myanmar's parliament approved the Labor Organization Law, which covers protecting employees' rights, setting up good relationship between employers and employees as well as forming labor associations systematically and freely.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Soe Lin Aung on Workers in Dawei

Soe Lin Aung has a very informative and insightful piece over at New Mandala looking at the Dawei deep sea industrial port from a labour perspective. He concludes:
In other words, no shortcuts – just the daily hard work of local-level organizing and alliance-building, with ears to the ground. Thailand-based groups that work with migrant workers from Burma would do well to assist in this work, in Dawei and elsewhere in the country, as these organizations know what it means to open up spaces for organizing in difficult conditions. Admittedly the need for a labour-based approach in Dawei remains largely unrecognized; labour issues are considered peripheral to other approaches thus far. But as a project that remains, for now at least, something of a showpiece initiative for Burma’s liberalization process, Dawei may well set standards for years to come. It could also be read as a harbinger of sorts, a sign or symbol of broader trends in the region. The processes that Dawei represents – informalization of labour, expulsion of rural communities from their land, degradation of labour standards, the production of new surplus communities at the periphery of global capitalism – are signs of dark days to come for working people, in Burma as elsewhere. While the project is still relatively labour-intensive, now is the time for labour mobilization. With the stature of the project still intact, the repercussions could be tremendous.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Western Markets ‘Will Promote Worker Rights’?

The Irrawaddy reports:
The return of Western markets for Burma’s once-booming garment industry can help safeguard worker rights, claims an industry expert. While the United States and Europe were always vigilant in ensuring workplace practices were up to scratch, Burma’s post-sanctions biggest export market of Japan only cared about the quality of items being delivered, said Myanmar Garment Association (MGA) Chairman Myint Soe. “US garment firms are very concerned with labor rights. Normally, US garment companies check the working environment of factories and other labor suppliers before they give the green light for trade,” he told a press conference held by the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).

Friday, 31 August 2012

Leader of the country’s trade union movement?

The ITUC reports on FTUB's Maung Maung being allowed back into Myanmar. In reference to Maung Maung's self-appointed role as head of FTUB, the ITUC refers to him as the "leader of the country's trade union movement". The report adds that "having Maung Maung inside the country with his union colleagues will help the union movement to grow and play its role to the fullest." Hmmm...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Mine workers form union in Burma

Australia's ABC Radio has an interview with Ross Wilson, the Chief Technical Advisor for the Freedom of Association Project about the formation of a new union by a group of 4,000 gold miners.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Corporate social responsibility in Myanmar?

An article by Ethical Corporation:
Though official statistics do not always match with media reports, there are three special economic zones in Burma and 18 industrial zones. Most public sources agree there are nearly 300 garment factories and as many as 100,000 workers in that sector alone... As one Japanese bank staffer puts it: “Labour costs are cheap and people are hardworking, but its social infrastructure is extremely poor.” ... Social auditors visiting factories in the last few years have similar stories. “One factory was not cooperative at all – when we uncovered a report of physical abuse, the audit was aborted and we were kicked out,” says Jeraporn Rothorn, an auditor. Other auditors indicate that workers were afraid to speak with their employers about labour issues and, at the time, were not allowed to have trade unions in the workplace. While the trade union laws are changing, along with many other things in Burma, it may take time for labour practices to improve. Companies rushing from China or the labour unrest in Bangladesh may find a new set of challenges awaiting in Burma.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

On foreign investment and economic change...

A series of articles have recently come out commenting on foreign investment and economic change (real and potential):

The Wall Street Journal, "Myanmar’s Growing, but Has a Long Way to Go," 20 August, 2012
  • Myanmar’s economy will grow by about 6.0% in 2012 and 6.3% in 2013
  • Myanmar could grow at 7%-8% per year for a decade or more
  • it could take years if not decades for it to start catching up to many of its regional peers
  • Only about 26% of Myanmar’s population had access to electricity in 2011
  • Only 1.26 people out of every 100 in Myanmar have fixed telephone lines
  • Agriculture accounted for 35% of Myanmar’s gross domestic product in 1965; in 2010, it was 36%
  • Myanmar's per capita income in 1960 was about $670, more than three times that of Indonesia and more than twice that of Thailand. By 2010 it had the lowest GDP per capita in Southeast Asia, at about $1,300 on a purchasing power parity basis.
Asia Times Online, "Rocky road to World Bank re-engagement," 22 August, 2012
At the beginning of August, the World Bank, along with the Asian Development Bank, reopened offices in Yangon... This marks the first formal engagement between the World Bank and Myanmar... in 25 years, as well as the first ever entry of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group's private-sector arm.... But the move comes following urging by local and international NGOs and amidst ongoing complaints that the bank has not engaged in adequate consultation with local communities... To date, local organizations and communities have felt the World Bank's approach is non-inclusive, sparse on details, lacks transparency and, most worrisome, does not solicit input from the organizations and communities most affected by conflict and development to inform their decision-making process... Perhaps the most contentious section of the ISN will be the bank's plan to "support the peace process in border areas through community-driven development programs to promote the recovery of conflict-affected communities... While a focus on these communities is undeniably critical, their engagement is also the most complicated. It is here that locals are most marginalized from the reforms process in Myanmar, most alienated from the state and most suspicious of "development", often seeing such projects as thinly veiled attempts to take over their resource-rich lands.
Voice of America, "Economists Warn Burma Against Breaks For Foreign Investors," 21 August, 2012
Burma is drafting a foreign investment law to usher in a flood of foreign capital aimed at helping the country emerge from decades of poverty and isolation. But, economists warn the law, as drafted, has problems. Burma’s reformist government hopes the new law will diversify and increase foreign investment, partly by offering several years tax-free. But economists including Turnell say a tax holiday is an unnatural competitive advantage over local entrepreneurs.... Economists say one of the bigger challenges for investors in Burma is getting access to credit to build a business. Some farmers turn to loan sharks, paying as much as 10 per cent a month, and falling into deep debt.
Forbes, "Myanmar Opens Up, Slowly," 21 August, 2012
For U.S. and Asian companies, Myanmar is still in its “look-see” phase. Some, like Visa, are now dipping in, watching carefully to see if and how the nation unfolds its authoritarian grip.

Land Rights Activist Hit with Court Summons

A nice quote in The Irrawaddy from land rights activist Nay Moe Wai after being summoned to appear in a Rangoon Division court to answer defamation charges filed by a Burmese company he accused of illegal land grabs:
“I just pointed out that what [Zay Kabar] did is illegal,” Nay Myo Wai explained. “I have already told them that if they want the land, negotiate with the farmers first. Give them proper compensation for their land. That’s all. I don’t broker price negotiations for them. It’s a do-it-yourself approach.” ... Nay Myo Wai considers the lawsuit a struggle between two classes—the corrupt fat cats in power versus the farmer underdogs. “The peasants are only asking for what they deserve and the other party retaliates with a lawsuit,” he said. “If the company goes into partnership with farmers, it won’t happen. A wealthy person by no means has the right to kick out poor farmers simply as he wants their land for his own interests.”

Indonesian killed after argument with Myanmar workmates

According to the New Straits Times:
An Indonesian factory worker was found beaten to death, following an argument with three Myanmar workmates at a shop in Jalan Permatang Rawa [Singapore] yesterday. The victim was identified as Purawadi, 24, who had a permit to work at the onion processing factory where he was employed for nine months... Purawadi's assailants were armed with an iron pipe, knife and wood when they confronted him. He said the victim was earlier, drinking at the shop with three Myanmar workmates before a quarrel broke out. He said Purawadi fled from the shop before he was attacked in his room at a workers' quarters, about 80 metres away.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Committee to review Myanmar-Thai labour MoU

The Myanmar Times reports:
A BODY will be formed to review a memorandum of understanding on labour hiring, which was signed by Myanmar and Thailand in 2003. The decision was made during a workshop conducted by the Overseas Employment Supervision Committee and the Administration Programme and Workers Protection and Care Committee in Yangon on July 21. Workshop delegates included the deputy minister for labour, government officials, NGOs and overseas employment agencies. In addition to reviewing the agreement, other points of discussion included sending workers to Thailand and issuing visas and passports to the spouses and children of migrant workers.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Labour activist arrested in Mandalay after protest

DVB article on the recent arrest of labour activist Aye Thein.
Police detained labour activist Aye Thein who was assisting vendors that were protesting potential relocation in Mandalay’s Kidan Market yesterday. About 100 vendors protested in front of a municipal administration building before Aye Thein was arrested... The activist’s family was told that the police were holding Aye Thein, but they were unclear on what he was being charged with.

Burmese gov’t to offer migrants chance to return home

Mizzima article about Myanmar government plans to issue identity paper to, and financially assist, migrants in Thailand to return home to Myanmar.
Around 150,000 Burmese refugees and migrants now living in Thailand will be given government aid to voluntarily return to their country, officials of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Resettlement said... A certificate of identity would be issued to any Burmese migrant worker in Thailand who wants to return home for good, said the report, excluding law breakers who would have to face the charges against them.

Children of Migrants to Get Burmese IDs

An Irrawaddy article on the issuing of Myanmar birth certificates to children of migrants born in Thailand:
Peace negotiators claim that birth certificate will soon be provided to the Thailand-born children of Burmese migrants after a second successful meeting with Dr. Cynthia Maung at Mae Tao Clinic, in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, on Sunday... According to the Committee for the Promotion and Protection of Child Rights, there were 20,661 children registered at Mae Tao Clinic between 2003 and 2011, while “tens of thousands more may be left behind due to a lack of knowledge among the migrant workers and the barriers of travelling without legal documents,” said General-Secretary Naing Min.

ILO meets factory owner over firings

Myanmar Times article on an ILO meeting with a factory owner to follow up case of firing of labour organisers.
On July 10, some workers from the factory, which employs more than 2000 people, gathered to form a labour organisation. The next day the factory dismissed nine workers who had taken up executive committee posts in the organisation, The Voice reported on July 30. The journal said the Yangon Region arbitration body had upheld the sackings because it found the workers had conducted activities “that can hurt the peaceful situation at the working environment, [including] holding meetings, protesting, inciting workers who are working peacefully, intentionally destroying the situation at the workplace, and causing delays in the work of others”, as their employer alleged. “I didn’t do anything to cause ‘unrest’ at the workplace,” U Kyaw Min Htwe, one of the dismissed workers, was quoted as saying.

Myanmar's Workers Exercise Rights To Organize

America's NPR provides as audio report on the recent strike wave in Myanmar. Among there interesting bits of information is this quote:
"State media reported that as of May [2012] more than 36,000 workers from 57 factories, mostly in the Yangon area, had gone on strike."

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Deepening the social gulf between rich and poor?

The World Socialist Website weighs in on investment in Myanmar.
Far from ending this social crisis, an influx of Western investment to exploit Burma’s cheap labour will deepen the social gulf between rich and poor. Moreover, like every other country in the region, Burma is being drawn into the deepening rivalry between the US and China that threatens to lead to destabilising conflicts and war.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Worker Strike Probe Shot Down by MPs

The Irrawaddy reports that a bill to establish a committee to prob the recent strike wave in Myanmar has been rejected in parliament.
A proposal to form a committee to investigate worker strikes, which took place in Rangoon factories to demand wages hikes over the past year, was rejected by Burma’s Lower House of Parliament after a vote on Wednesday. Speaking to The Irrawaddy after the decision, Thein Nyunt, a Lower House MP for the New Democracy Party, said he proposed forming the new committee in order to keep tabs on the current political and economic situation... [South Oakkalapa MP Aung Thein Lin] explained that 90 factories, mostly in Rangoon, went on strike in May and June but all are now back on track after officials helped in negotiations between the employers and employees. In June, the Ministry of Labor imposed a minimum wage for workers, Aung Thein Lin added, and more than 100 worker associations have been formed in accordance with the new Labor Association law and bylaws. Meanwhile, the Minimum Wage Bill is due to be discussed in Parliament this month.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Burmese Migrants Gunned Down In Southern Thailand

DVB reports on the killings of three Myanmar migrant workers:
Three Burmese migrant workers in southern Thailand’s Phang-nga and Songkhla provinces were shot and killed by unknown gunmen in two separate incidents on 25 July.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Thai-Myanmar intergovernmental meeting on migrants

With Myanmar president Thein Sein's meeting with Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra on 23 July, an agreement was reached to only allow registration of migrant workers through the government-to-government MoU process following the 14 December deadline for the registration of migrants already living in Thailand. A few articles have details of this meeting and the resulting agreements.

The Nation, 27 July, 2012
The December 14 deadline for registration of illegal migrant workers will not be extended, because Thailand wants to change the system, with workers only being brought here via government-to-government contracts in the long run, Labour Minister Phadermchai Sasomsap said yesterday. The minister cited agreements discussed in a meeting with President Thein Sein during his visit to Bangkok this week, saying Myanmar workers would be brought here via state agreements. The deals would last for two years but not exceed four years. In regard to the deadline to register "illegals", he said it had been extended many times but December 14 would be the final date.
Asian Correspondent, 27 July, 2012
President of Burma or Myanmar, Mr. Thein Sein met Thai Prime Minister Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra at Thai Koo Fah of State Guesthouse in Bangkok, Thailand on Monday (23 July)... Thus, the President urged pushing ahead for urgent implementation of Dawei Special Economic Zone’. It is necessary to create jobs for people living along the border regions to assure their socio-economic life. Due to rising stability along Thai-Burma border, Thein Sein said that his government would open more border trade camps, more border industrial zones and establish commercial-scale cultivated areas and industrialized businesses along the border, revealed the President. He also proposed for formally opening of border trade camps in Htiki and other available places along the Thai-Burma border... The Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra guaranteed the same salary for Burmese migrant workers equal to Thai workers.
Mizzima, 27 July, 2012
Burma and Thailand are planning a major overhaul in how migrant workers can enter and work in Thailand, the Minister of Labour said on Friday. Labour Minister Phadermchai Sasomsap said that Thailand wants to change the system with workers only being brought here via government-to-government contracts in the long run.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Bloomberg on investment in Myanmar

Bloomberg has published an informative article on the statistics motivating increased foreign investment in Myanmar.
The currency dropped 1.7 percent in the past month to about 871 per dollar... reducing labor costs in a country where manufacturers can employ six workers for the price of one in Guangzhou, China... Laborers in Myanmar’s manufacturing industries earned an average monthly salary of about 50,437 kyat ($58) last year... A falling currency makes Myanmar wages and goods cheaper for foreign companies and overseas buyers... Myanmar is also attractive to manufacturers that want to diversify geographic risks... “The workers are very hard working and hungry for jobs,” said [the] chairman of... an umbrella group for most of the city’s garment manufacturers. “In a year or so, we will see a lot more investment to the country.”

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Burmese Labor Minister Meets Labor Rights NGOs

The Irrawaddy reports on the recent meeting between Labour Minister Aung Kyi and Thailand-based labour rights organisations, including FED and MAP Foundation.
Burma’s Labor Minister Aung Kyi met with representatives of five NGOs at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok on Tuesday when they discussed issues surrounding Burmese migrant workers, their rights, and the conditions they work under. The meeting was arranged as part of President Thein Sein’s three-day visit to Thailand where he focused mostly on cementing plans to proceed with the Dawei Special Economic Zone.

Underaged Myanmar maids working in S'pore

Singapore's AsiaOne News reports on underage Myanmar migrant women being recruited as maids in Singapore.
Girls from Myanmar, some as young as 16 years old, are being sent to Singapore to work as maids, say agents and recruiters. The Straits Times reported that these girls used passports with false ages to enter Singapore as domestic workers.  In 2005, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) set a requirement that all foreign maids in Singapore must be at least 23 years old... There are currently 206,000 maids here with the majority from Philippines and Indonesia, and only an estimated 10,000 are from Myanmar.  Myanmar maids earn about $400 and $420 a month in Singapore, according to the report.

Myanmar migrants caught growing pot

The Nation reports on Myanmar migrants detained to be charged with land encroachment.  The reason, apparently, was that they intended to cultivate marijuana on a patch of protected forest.
Myanmar authorities Thursday revealed that 23 Myanmar workers were arrested along with the 92 Thai land encroachment suspects taken into custody on July 4, an informed source reported.  Like the Thais, the local workers would be charged with encroaching on forestland without permission.  The Myanmar authorities were processing the case speedily and notified the Thais of five charges against them; illegal entry, encroaching on forestland without permission, growing the narcotic plants marijuana and kratom, possessing war weapons, and obstructing officials performing their duty. They would be brought to court on July 27, the source said.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

‘Hundis’ Cheaper than Bank Transfers: Migrants

The Irrawaddy reports on remittances strategies for Myanmar migrant workers.
Burmese migrant workers in foreign countries welcomed the news on Jan. 1 that the country’s banks would officially allow them to remit funds to their families in Burma. However, some eight months into the scheme and migrants in Southeast Asia are finding that the charges for official transfers are higher than they previously paid using informal money agents, or hundi.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Protection too costly for many Myanmar workers

The Nation reports on the high cost, red tape and corruption hindering migrants acquisition of passports and work permits in Mahachai.
Many Myanmar migrant workers have to live without real legal protection because they cannot afford the inflated fees charged by some agents for nationality verification.  "All the fees related to the process in fact should not exceed Bt2,000 per person, but we have found that most workers pay at least Bt5,500," said Kyaw Zaw Linn, the Samut Sakhon location coordinator of the Migrant Justice Programme. He has also worked for the Human Rights and Development Foundation.  About 700,000-800,000 Myan-mar people have completed the nationality verification process in Thailand and become registered migrant workers, who are entitled to many legal rights and protection, he said.  "But many other migrant workers have no chance to get such protection because they cannot scrape up the fees," he said.

Misery in “Little Myanmar”

The Nation and Eleven Media have a joint article on conditions for migrant workers in Mahachai:
The area is officially under the control of the Thai police department. Migrant workers have to pay a fee to Thai police officers monthly to avoid arrest. Police officers usually charge Bt800 per month for a shop owner who does not have any verification on hand. A migrant worker can get arrested easily by police who make up stories about their illegal activities. When that happens, a price must be negotiated between the worker and police. The price could be anywhere between Bt4,500 and Bt25,000. Commonly trumped-up charges by police include the playing of illegal three-digit lotteries and drug-related offences...
  • 2 million Myanmar workers in Thailand are legal and 700,000-800,000 have become legal through the nationality verification process.
  • Almost 1 million others are illegal.
  • 120,000 Myanmar migrants are working in Samut Sakhon province legally.
  • Tens of thousands of other Myanmar workers there are illegal, but 80,000 are joining the nationality verification process to become legal workers.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Transnational corporations to "save" Myanmar workers?

The Toronto Star has a relatively extensive recent article about foreign investment in Myanmar--particularly in extractive industries.  Describing the overwork and low pay of factory workers in the Hlaing Thar Yar industrial zone, the authors of the article cite female factory workers:
The women urged reporters to relay their story to the international community using the few English words they knew: "Save us. Help us."
What specifically these woman were hoping for in their appeal is not made clear.  But the authors of the article seem to believe it was (or should be) transnational corporations:
Help is coming.
With harsh military rule easing and the recent suspension of sanctions by Canada, the United States and the European Union, Western firms are rushing to set up businesses in Burma.  Oil giants Total and Chevron are already here, as are companies from China, the country’s largest outside investor.
The article goes on to quote Canadian Conservative MP Dave Van Kesteren, making a questionable claim about the "social conscience" of Canadian mining corporations:
"Quite frankly, your investment will come where there is a return, and we know extraction is where your greatest return is going to be,” he told human rights committee members. “My suggestion to you is to welcome that, embrace that, especially when it comes from Western countries that have proven they have a strong, what we call, social conscience."
For more information on the "social conscience" of Canadian mining companies, I refer readers to the Toronto-based Mining Injustice Solidarity Network.

Yangon railway workers' association formed

According to an RFA report over 60 railway workers in Yangon have formed an association under the Myanmar labour union law.  The workers were assisted in this by members of the 88 Generation Students.
ရန္ကုန္တုိင္း အင္းစိန္ မီးရထားစက္ေခါင္း စက္ရံု အလုပ္သမား (၆၀) ေက်ာ္ စုေပါင္းျပီး မီးရထားအေျခခံ အလုပ္သမား အဖြဲ႔အစည္းကုိ ဒီကေန႔ စတင္ ဖြဲ႔စည္းလုိက္ပါတယ္။
ဒီအဖြဲ႔အစည္းဟာ ျမန္မာႏုိင္ငံမွာ အလုပ္သမားသမဂၢေတြ တရား၀င္ ဖြဲ႔စည္းထူေထာင္ခြင့္ ရရွိျပီးေနာက္ပုိင္း အစိုးရဝန္ထမ္း အလုပ္သမားေတြ ကုိယ္တိုင္ ပထမဆံုး ထူေထာင္လိုက္တဲ့ အဖြဲ႔အစည္းတစ္ခုလည္း ျဖစ္ပါတယ္။

Saturday, 14 July 2012

ILO to give Yangon training

According to MRTW, the ILO will conduct a training in Yangon on international legal norms for the recently formed 15-person employer-employee conflict resolution tribunal.
အလုပ္သမား ေရးရာ ဆက္ဆံေရး ဦးစီး ဌာနမွ တာ၀န္ရွိသူ တစ္ဦးရဲ႕ ေျပာျပခ်က္ အရ အလုပ္သမားနဲ႔ အလုပ္ရွင္မ်ား ပဋိပကၡ ျဖစ္မႈေတြကို  ေျဖရွင္း ေပးတဲ့ ခံုသမာဓိ အဖြဲ႔ကို ILO မွ နည္းပညာ အရာရွိခ်ဳပ္ တစ္ဦးက ႏုိင္ငံတကာ စံႏႈန္း ဥပေဒ ေတြကို လာေရာက္ သင္ၾကား ေပးဖုိ႔ ရွိတယ္လုိ႔ သိရပါတယ္။ အခုလို သင္ၾကား ေပးရာမွာ ILO မွ တာ၀န္ရွိသူက အလုပ္သမား ေတြနဲ႔ ပတ္သက္တဲ့ ႏုိင္ငံတကာ စံႏႈန္း ဥပေဒ အေၾကာင္းနဲ႔ အလုပ္ရွင္၊ အလုပ္သမား ပဋိပကၡေတြ ေျဖရွင္းမႈ အေတြ႕အႀကံဳ အစရွိတာ ေတြကို ပို႔ခ်ေပး သြားမွာ ျဖစ္ပါတယ္။

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Workers strike in Three Pagodas Pass

According to an article in the Phophaw News Association, 10 July 2012
ရရွိသင့္ေသာ အခြင့္အေရးမ်ား နစ္နာ ဆံုးရွဳံး မွဳမ်ား အတြက္ ကရင္ျပည္နယ္ ၾကာအင္းဆိပ္ႀကီးၿမိဳ႔နယ္ ဘုရားသံုးဆူၿမိဳ႔မွ ျမန္မာ အလုပ္သမား (၈၀) ေက်ာ္တို႔၏ ေတာင္းဆိုမွဳတြင္ ျမန္မာ အာဏာပိုင္ တို႔၏ အကူအညီ မရခဲ့ဟု ဆႏၵျပခဲ့ေသာ စက္ရံု အလုပ္သမား တဦးက ဆိုပါသည္။

“က်ေနာ္ ကေတာ့ ဘုရားသံုးဆူၿမိဳ႔ ထိုင္းႏိုင္ငံဖက္ျခမ္းက PIA Trading အမ်ဳိးသမီး၀တ္ ေဘာ္လီခ်ဳပ္ စက္ရုံက အလုပ္ သမား တဦးပါ။ အခုျဖစ္ေနတဲ့ျပသနာက စက္ရံုက ႀကိဳတင္ အသိေပးေသာ္လည္း ပိတ္လိုက္တဲ့ အခါမွာေတာ့ အလုပ္ သမားေတြအတြက္ နစ္နာေၾကးေတြ မေပးခဲ့ဘူး။ ဒါေၾကာင့္ ျပီးခဲ့တဲ့ ဇူလိုင္လ (၄) ရက္ေန႔ ကတည္းက က်ေနာ္တို႔ အလုပ္သမားေတြ ဆႏၵျပခဲ့တာပါ။

Sunday, 8 July 2012

MAP statement on new migrant travel restrictions

The MAP Foundation has released the following statement on the travel restrictions recently imposed on passport-holding migrants in Mae Sot, Thailand who are not yet registered for work elsewhere in Thailand.
Employers in Tak have managed to persuade the authorities to slap travel restrictions on all migrants registered to work in five border provinces. Even migrants who are holding Temporary Passports which should allow migrants to travel freely throughout the country are now facing restrictions.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Thailand's plan to deport pregnant migrants

An article in the local Phuket Wan provides a critical look at the Thai government's recent plan to deport migrant workers who become pregnant.
PHUKET: A plan by the Thai government to combat human trafficking raises the nightmare scenario of pregnant women being trucked or bussed off Phuket once their bulging tummies are discovered... Phuket's rainbow of residents these days extends from the international rich, in their seaside mansions, to the exceedingly poor, in their tumbling shanties. With a few worthy exceptions, the well-off go about their life on Phuket as though the world is a wonderful place, seldom appearing to shed too much concern for their poorest neighbors. Yet modern, urban Phuket is being built on the backs of these people. Many of the villas occupied by the carefree Phuket wealthy are also their handiwork. It's perhaps time for Phuket's well-heeled to spare a thought about the future of the Burmese women they see passing their BMWs and Mercs, pressed tight into trucks.

See also, "Thai pregnant workers plan slammed," Bangkok Post, 7 July 2012.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Workers can't live without owners?

The Myanmar Times continues its reporting of the Myanmar strike wave with this recent article:
OVER the past two months – since employees at the Tai Yi shoe factory in Hlaing Tharyar township stopped work on May 2 – a strike has occurred every few days in Yangon’s industrial zones. A few have captured a lot of attention, and many have passed with little notice, the workers’ demands quickly resolved. For most of the thousands of workers who have stopped work, their main complaint is their extremely low basic salary – usually about K8000 a month. But there are other, less well-known reasons for the strikes, namely the environment inside the factory.
We also get some insight into the politics of certain labour activists, like
Ko Ko Gyi of the 88 Generation Students; these are politics that I do not share:
“Worker unions are needed now more than ever. And also owners need to be smarter. They need to understand that worker unions are not there to oppose the owners. They are just a group that will negotiate to solve the problems between the owners and workers. And us activists will help them to get a better future. “Problems between workers and owners are like fights between family members. Regardless of how the family members are discordant, they have to meet each other. Owners and workers are the same too. Owners can’t run their business without workers and workers can’t live without owners. We are just advisers,” he added. 

Will we seen an exodus of Myanmar workers any time soon?

There has been a recent series of articles highlighting a potential large-scale return of migrant workers back to Myanmar. Let's hope that this "crisis" will strengthen the hand of migrant workers in their struggles for better wages and working conditions.

Mizzima, "Thai employers fear exodus of Burmese migrants," 29 June, 2012

Bangkok Post, "exodus of migrant workers a worry," 28 June, 2012

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Myanmar government deadline for migrant passports

Mizzima reports on the Myanmar government's plans to extend the deadline for migrant passports:
Burma will extend the issuance of temporary passports for registered migrants in Thailand by the end of this year, according to Burmese local media. Since 2009, provisional passports have been issued to about 700,000 out of 2 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. An estimated remaining 500,000 are undocumented, said 7-Day News. The passports are part of the process to allow Burmese migrant workers to work and travel legally in Thailand.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Thein Sein calls for minimum wage

Mizzima reports on U Thein Sein's recent statement about establishing a minimum wage and improving worker protections:
Burmese President Thein Sein on Monday outlined the government’s focus to provide a new minimum wage and its efforts to bring economic development to average workers in rural and urban areas... In his speech, Thein Sein said, "The basic need of every citizen is comprehensive health care as well as income security or in other words job security. This requirement calls for opportunities such as the access to education and social security. The government has been enacting new laws, amending the existing ones and revoking out-of-date laws as necessary to promote rights of workers and farmers and holding workshops on the establishment of a universal health insurance system for low-income rural people. We are in the process of enacting a law to fix minimum wage for workers to enjoy basic social rights they deserve."

Suu Kyi on investment and workers' rights

At a recent ILO meeting in Geneva, following Myanmar's readmission to the body, Suu Kyi gave her position on investment and workers rights in Myanmar.  As cited in The Irrawaddy:
"We need investments to be linked to job creation... We understand that investments are not altruistic … Investments must lead to profits, but we would like these profits to be shared with our people."
Reporting on this same speech, the BBC quote Suu Kyi as follows:
"I would like to call for aid and investment that will strengthen the democratisation process by promoting social and economic progress that is beneficial to political reform,"

Problems with the migrant passports

DVB reports on the corruption and overcharging among passport brokers in Mae Sot:
Agencies that have sprung up along the border in Mae Sot in recent months have been charging ten times the price for a one-year visa than what the government is asking. Burmese government officials have been charging inflated rates for issuing passports in a timely manner. Many of the impoverished migrant workers in Thailand are then left to borrow money to pay for their documents and are then forced to work for months, or years, to pay off their debts before they are able to send their hard-earned money back home to their families.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Rights and documentation of Myanmar migrants in Thailand

"Legal Burmese wait for court date," The Phuket News, 29 May 2012.

Eight Burmese immigrant workers who arrived in Thailand legally under the immigrant workers MoU signed by the Thai and Burmese governments are to go on trial on June 11 – charged with working without work permits.
"Thailand to extend registration system for migrant workers," The Jakarta Post, 5 June 2012.
A state committee on illegal migrant workers on Monday extended the nationality verification procedure for another six months, from June 14 to December 14. A resolution on this will be submitted to the Cabinet for consideration in two weeks... This was because Thailand had some two million workers from Myanmar, including 800,000 who were illegal (not registered) and needed to verify their nationality by June 14.
"Department of Labour to imporve legal protection for migrant workers," Pattaya Mail, 3 June 2012.

Strike wave in Myanmar

Further reporting as the strike wave continues among factory workers in Myanmar:

"Industry minister calls for trade union support," Mizzima News, 5 June 2012.
"In May 2012, 36,810 workers from 57 factories staged strikes asking for better wages and working conditions. Thirty-eight factories with more than 20,000 worker reached settlements, officials said."
"Workers embrace power to strike," Myanmar Times, 28 May - 3 June 2012.

"Eighteen strikes Yangon in May: activist," Myanmar Times, 28 May - 3 June 2012.

Myanmar migrants and Suu Kyi's visit to Thailand

A flurry of global media attention on Suu Kyi's recent trip to Thailand turned the international spotlight on Myanmar migrants in the country.  Here are just some of the relevant articles:

"Myanmar's migrant workers greet Suu Kyi in Thailand," Reuters, 30 May 2012.

"Suu Kyi visits migrant workers," 30 May 2012. 

"Suu Kyi Calls On Myanmar Workers In Thailand To Return Home," 31 May 2012.

"Burmese migrant workers dream of return home," CNN, 31 May 2012.

"Suu Kyi wants better deal for migrants," Bangkok Post, 1 June 2012.

"Suu Kyi demands better rights for Burmese migrants," DVB, 1 June 2012.

"Suu Kyi Presses for Migrants’ Rights in Thailand," The Irrawaddy, 1 June 2012. 

"Suu Kyi vows to protect migrant workers," Mizzima News, 21 May 2012.

"Suu Kyi concerned for Myanmar workers," Bangkok Post, 31 May 2012.


Saturday, 26 May 2012

Strike wave among workers in Myanmar

The Irrawaddy reports on the spreading strike wave among workers in Myanmar, particularly at the Hlaing Thar Yar industrial zone:
More than 5,000 workers in five different factories at Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone have been striking for better pay for two weeks... All the Hlaing Tharyar striking factories are close to one another with industrial action spreading to each over the course of a week. Since the middle of May, there has been a series of walk-outs in HI Mo wig factory, Sapae Pwint, Myanmar Pearl, Nay Min Aung, YJ and Tokyo garment factories, as well as Nawaday and Sunflower factories at different times.Employees of the three garment factories—Sapae Pwint, Pearl and Nay Min Aung—gathered at the Labor Affairs Office in Rangoon’s Mayangone Township on May 16. The following day, government authorities, including Lower House MP Aung Thein Lin from Rangoon’s South Oakkalarpa Township, met to negotiate with the factory owners. However, despite their involvement no progress has yet been made. Ohmar Nyein, a female worker at Sapae Pwint garment factory, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that, “the authorities just favor the employers, we are told what their offer is but they are not listening to our demands.”
These strikes were also reported in the Myanmar Times:
THE owners of two factories in Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone have set a May 21 deadline for some 1300 striking employees to return to work. Daw Su Sandar, the manager of garment factory Myanma Pearl, said the factory’s owner, Daw Sandar Aung, had agreed to most of the striking workers’ demands and those that did not stop demonstrating by May 21 would be fired. Myanmar Pearl employs 1090 workers, while Sabei Pwint, owned by her sister, Daw Thandar Aung, employs 600. About 1300 workers from the two factories began striking on May 15, calling for better pay and conditions.
In addition, The Irrawaddy reports that 25 workers at a steel factory in Hmawbi began a hunger strike on Friday, May 25:

Around 25 workers at a Chinese-owned steel factory in Rangoon Division announced on Friday that they will begin a hunger strike in response to the company’s refusal to raise wages. The workers are among a group of 400 who have been on strike at the Yangon Crown Steel Factory in Hmawbi, Rangoon Division, since May 20. The factory is located in the Myantakar Industrial Zone... Meanwhile, strikes at factories in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone continue weeks after workers first walked off the job. “Today, workers at nine factories continued their strikes,” U Htay, a lawyer who is acting a legal consultant to the striking workers, told The Irrawaddy on Friday. He added that a total of more than 7,000 workers from these factories are on strike... Workers at the factory allege that Korean managers at the factory were abusive to their Burmese staff, in some cases physically assaulting female workers. Although the factory’s management and workers reached an agreement to end the strike earlier this month after labor officials became involved in negotiations, the company’s owners have since refused to pay the agreed-to wage increase.
Workers at the factory say that in addition to a lack of food, they haven’t had water or electricity in their dormitories since yesterday.
 Regarding this strike wage, ABC Radio (Australia) has an interview with Sean Turnell.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Myanmar workers embrace new power to strike

AFP reports on the wave of strikes among workers in Myanmar, particularly in the Hlaing Thar Yar industrial zone on the outskirts of Yangon:

YANGON — Silenced for decades under military rule, Myanmar's workers are now daring to speak out to demand better pay and conditions after a new law gave them the right to strike.

Workers in the country formerly known as Burma are already testing their new-found power with a string of walkouts, emboldened by legislation that is considered among the most progressive in the region.

Hundreds of employees from three garment factories at Yangon's Hlaing Thar Yar Industrial Zone went on strike last week demanding improved working conditions, picketing outside the plants.

Clapping and chanting, they showed none of the fear that would have accompanied such open defiance in the past, when businesses held all the cards in a system defined by cronyism and intolerance of opposition.

"If they want to sack us, they will have to fire all 800 workers" at her factory, said one 26-year-old employee who told AFP she was not afraid of losing her job, although she was reluctant to give her name.

"If they don't increase the money, we will continue protesting," she added, saying she was paid around $60 a month.

The new legislation, approved by the country's reformist President Thein Sein to replace the repressive 1962 Trade Unions Act, was prepared with the help of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

It gives workers the right to strike when employers have been given advance notice, and to form unions with a minimum of 30 members.

The new rules represent a challenge to both workers and employers in a country where dissent was routinely crushed by a military regime for nearly half a century until a new quasi-civilian government took power last year.

"It's the very early days of a new industrial environment. People are coming to grips with it, understanding new rights and responsibilities," said Steve Marshall, the ILO's liaison officer in Myanmar.

He said people may become aware that they now have the right to strike but have little understanding of how to negotiate with employers, who are also adjusting to the new rules.
"We will likely see some industrial disruption and that is part of the learning process," he said.

A foreign diplomat told AFP the new legislation was considered as possibly "the best such law in Asia".

But he added: "The question is how to implement it in the current state of Myanmar society, which is not quite ready yet."

Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the world and despite hopes of an economic revival as it opens up to foreign investment, job opportunities are still scarce and people face rising consumer prices.

The protester at Hlaing Thar Yar said workers wanted a cost of living allowance of 30,000 kyats (about $37) a month, which would bring her total monthly salary to around $100, including overtime.

Her employer had agreed to a $12 allowance, but "we are not satisfied with that", she said.
The firm said in a statement that workers who had not agreed to its offer by May 18 would be considered to have "resigned by their own will" -- a deadline ignored by the strikers.
It is just one in a number of recent cases of labour unrest at factories in Myanmar, whose low-cost workforce is a major attraction for foreign manufacturers hoping to set up operations there.

Earlier this month around 300 workers at a wig factory in the same industrial zone went on strike, demanding that their basic salaries be raised from around $12 a month to roughly $38.

"We have faced this problem for a long time but we couldn't stand it any longer," said 23-year-old Thingyan Moe. The South Korean employer granted all of the staff requests.
"Many protests are occurring in factories at industrial zones these days," said a lawyer acting for the garment workers, Htay, who goes by one name.

The reforms have not yet filtered through to employers or rank-and-file labour ministry bureaucrats, he added, so that "workers have no other option than to protest to get what they want".

"If these issues are not solved, it might cause instability. It might become the beginning of a labour uprising. We can't guess how far it will go."

But most recent disputes have been small in scale, with workers opting to walk out in the early stage of negotiations and agreeing a resolution within days.

Ye Naing Win, of the Committee for Establishing Independent Labour Unions, a local activist group, said there had been more than 20 strikes this year and more were expected.
"The protests are occurring because the basic salary they get is so poor and their lives get harder," he said. "These factories are like prisons."

Factory refuses to allow striking workers to return to work

RFA reports that the employer at the Grand Royal liquor factory has refused to allow approximately 300 workers who went on strike demanding a wage increase in April 2012 to return to work:

Grand Royal အရက္ခ်က္စက္ရုံက လုပ္ခလစာ တုိးေပးဖုိ႔ ေတာင္းဆုိေနတဲ့ အလုပ္သမားေတြကုိ အလုပ္ရွင္က အျပည့္အ၀ လုိက္ေလ်ာျခင္းမရွိသလုိ၊ အလုပ္ျပန္ဆင္းတာကုိလည္း လက္မခံဘူးလုိ႔ သိရပါတယ္။

Grand Royal အရက္ခ်က္စက္ရုံက လုပ္ခလစာ တုိးေပးဖုိ႔ ေတာင္းဆုိေနတဲ့ အလုပ္သမားေတြကုိ အလုပ္ရွင္က အျပည့္အ၀ လုိက္ေလ်ာျခင္းမရွိသလုိ၊ အလုပ္ျပန္ဆင္းတာကုိလည္း လက္မခံဘူးလုိ႔ သိရပါတယ္။

အေျခခံလုပ္ခလစာ တုိးေပးဖုိ႔ အလုပ္သမား ၃၀၀ ေလာက္က ေတာင္းဆုိထားတာကုိ ၿပီးခဲ့တဲ့ ဧၿပီလ ၂၈ ရက္ေန႔ ကတည္းက အလုပ္ရွင္၊ အလုပ္သမားနဲ႔ အလုပ္သမား၀န္ႀကီးဌာန တာ၀န္ရွိသူေတြ ညႇိႏႈိင္းေဆြးေႏြးခဲ့ေပမယ့္ ေျပလည္မႈ မရရွိခဲ့ဘူးလုိ႔ အလုပ္သမားေခါင္းေဆာင္ေတြက ေျပာပါတယ္။
မေန႔က တတိယအႀကိမ္အျဖစ္ ေနျပည္ေတာ္ အလုပ္သမား၀န္ႀကီးဌာနက ဗုိလ္မွဴးႀကီး ယုလြင္ေအာင္နဲ႔ စက္ရုံတာ၀န္ရွိသူ ေဒၚေအးသီတာသန္႔တုိ႔ ညႇိႏႈိင္းၿပီး ေနာက္လုပ္ခလစာကုိ ေျခာက္ေထာင္တုိးေပးဖုိ႔ ဆုံးျဖတ္ခဲ့ပါတယ္။

အလုပ္သမားေတြရဲ႕ ေတာင္းဆုိခ်က္နဲ႔ အလြန္ကြာဟေနတယ္လုိ႔ အလုပ္သမားေခါင္းေဆာင္တစ္ဦးက အခုလို ေျပာပါတယ္။

"ကြ်န္ေတာ္တို႔လစာ အနည္းဆံုးလစာက ယခင္လစာ ၄၃၀၀၀ ရပါတယ္ခင္ဗ်။ အမ်ားဆံုးက ၅၁၀၀၀ ရပါတယ္ခင္ဗ်။ အဲဒီလို လစာကေနျပီးေတာ့ ကြ်န္ေတာ္တို႔က ေတာင္းဆိုလိုက္တဲ့ လစာက အေျခခံလစာ ခုႏွစ္ေသာင္းပါခင္ဗ်။ ႏွစ္အလိုက္ တစ္ႏွစ္ကို ၃၀၀၀ စီထည့္ေပးရမယ္လို႔ ကြ်န္ေတာ္တို႔က ေတာင္းဆိုထားပါတယ္။ ဥပမာ စုစုေပါင္း သူတို႔တိုးေပးတာ အရင္က ၅၁၀၀၀ ဆိုရင္ အခုက ေလာေလာဆယ္မွာ ေျခာက္ေထာင္ပဲ တိုးေပးပါတယ္ခင္ဗ်"

အလုပ္သမား၀န္ႀကီးဌာနက တာ၀န္ရွိသူ ဗုိလ္မွဴးႀကီး ယုလြင္ေအာင္က အလုပ္သမားေတြ အလုပ္ျပန္ဆင္းဖုိ႔ တုိက္တြန္းတဲ့အတြက္ ဒီကေန႔ အလုပ္သြားျပန္ဆင္းေပမယ့္ ဆႏၵျပရာမွာ ပါ၀င္ခဲ့တဲ့ အလုပ္သမားေတြကုိ အလုပ္ရုံေတြထဲ ၀င္ခြင့္မေပးဘူးလုိ႔ အလုပ္သမားတစ္ဦးက ေျပာပါတယ္။

ဂရင္းရြိင္ရယ္ အရက္ခ်က္စက္ရုံဟာ ေရႊျပည္သာစက္မႈဇုန္၊ ဇုန္အမွတ္ ၃ မွာရွိၿပီး၊ စုစုေပါင္း အလုပ္သမား ေလးေထာင္နီးပါး ရွိတယ္လုိ႔ သိရပါတယ္။ ဒီအရက္ခ်က္စက္ရုံကုိ ICDC လုပ္ငန္းအုပ္စုက ပုိင္ဆုိင္ၿပီး ကုမၸဏီရဲ႕ ဥကၠ႒ကေတာ့ ဦးေအာင္မုိးေက်ာ္ျဖစ္ပါတယ္။

အလုပ္သမားေတြဘက္ကေတာ့ ဆက္လက္ ေဆြးေႏြးညႇိႏႈိင္းမႈေတြ ျပဳလုပ္ဖုိ႔ လုိလားတယ္လုိ႔ ေျပာဆုိခဲ့ပါတယ္။
From The Irrawaddy, 19 May, 2012:
The sun has already set on a rundown apartment building down a quiet narrow alley near the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border. A large group of Burmese migrant workers congregate outside.
They have been waiting for the Thai agency to process their visas since the early afternoon. They already spent hours queuing up, in the hot summer sun, on the Friendship Bridge to get day passes to enter Thailand. The agency charged them 400 baht (US $12.70) for the pass, even though it officially only costs 20 baht.
The agency is just one of dozens which have sprung up along the border in recent months, cashing on the looming June 14 deadline for National Verification. The new Thai law requires foreign workers from Burma, Cambodia and Laos to be legally registered to work in the country.
Answering the call of a Thai labor crisis, thousands of Burmese workers cross into Mae Sot every day, hoping to earn a salary several times higher than in their native Burma.
Along the highway leading to the Friendship Bridge, larger crowds of migrant workers wait outside other agencies. With bags in toe, scores of mini-buses wait to transport them to Bangkok and with them their dreams of making money.
The scene is reminiscent of a gold rush. However in this scenario, where migrant workers can expect to pay 10 times the official fee (500 baht) for a one-year visa, it’s obvious who the prospectors are and who is getting mined.
Several years ago, the Thai government announced that all foreign workers must be registered or risk deportation. The deadline was extended several times after rights groups complained about the impracticalities of registering millions of migrant workers throughout the country.
There are an estimated 2-3 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, making up about 5 percent of the total Thai work force.
The annual remittance from Burmese nationals working overseas is more than $3.6 billion, Burma’s Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein told Thai press in April, following a meeting with Thai ministers to iron out the details for the implementation of the National Verification process, according to a Bangkok Post article.
Ironically, he praised the significant contributions Burmese migrant workers had made to the country’s economic growth.
Some people wonder if the real reason Naypyidaw is supporting the National Verification process is to collect taxes from the millions of Burmese working abroad.
Others, from ethnic areas where corruption by local authorities is still rampant, worry that the personal information they are required to provide to get a passport will be exploited to extort money from relatives back home.
Sam Win is from Karen state. He used to work on a garbage truck in Bangkok, earning 150 baht ($4.77) a day. When heavy flooding ravaged Thailand’s largest city causing a mass exodus of migrant workers, he had to leave without collecting his salary.
Unfortunately, Sam Win was one of the thousands of migrant workers who got caught in a Thai police net on the way back to the border.
Immigration officers delivered him to the Border Guard Force on the Thai side of the Myawaddy River, where he had to pay a 2,500-baht ($80) bribe or risk being sold to human traffickers.
Nearly one year later, Sam Win finds himself sitting on a curb in Mae Sot, waiting three days for an agency to process his Thai visa. He is only a five-minute drive, by detention center truck, from the spot where the Thai police deported him.
The Thai visa and Burmese passport cost him 10,000 baht, money he had to borrow to pay. Although Sam Win doesn’t have a confirmed job in Bangkok, he hopes to return to his municipal employment.
Before coming back to Thailand, he tried to make money in his village farming, but gave up because the earnings were too low.
His relative, Tin Aung, who is also waiting for a Thai visa, does not have a job either. But he still paid 16,000 baht (over $500) for his Burmese passport and Thai visa because he was in a hurry.
For the last eight years, Tin Aung worked on boats in Pattaya. Last month, with the National Verification deadline approaching, he decided to return to Burma to get his passport.
“I didn’t want to pay the human smugglers to travel back home so I turned myself in to Thai immigration, who deported me to the border,” said Tin Aung.
Now a month later, he is anxious to return to bangkok where his wife and daughter are waiting. Tin Aung couldn’t afford to pay for their documents, which means after June 14, only he will able to legal in the family.
Despite all the money he had to borrow to obtain his visa and passport, Tin Aung says he is “happy” to finally have legal status in Thailand.
“The last time I worked here, I was always felt afraid of the police. Now I can go wherever I want. For the first time [in Thailand] I feel freedom,” said Tin Aung.