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.

Burmese ‘Slaves’ Rescued from Thai Factory

From The Irrawaddy, 17 May, 2012:
Nearly 150 Burmese migrant workers, who for up to two years had been locked inside a shrimp factory in Mahachai near Bangkok, were rescued on Tuesday by Thai police and social organizations.
Kyaw Thaung, a spokesperson for the Burmese Association in Thailand (BAT), told The Irrawaddy that his organization found out about the workers through an employee who had escaped.
“There are 146 workers altogether. They were placed in the basement underneath the factory and forced to work like slaves,” said Kyaw Thaung.
He said the BAT staff informed local authorities about the conditions in the factory and the plight of the desperate workers, but were told they would have to produce stronger evidence, such as photographs or videos, before the authorities could take further action.
The staffer, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Irrawaddy that he had to risk his life to obtain such evidence.
“I had to shoot photos and videos secretly, and I was afraid of being found out by the factory thugs or the police. I don’t have any documents to stay in Thailand,” he said.
After his evidence was submitted to local Thai police and a UN agency, the factory owner, Burmese charge-hands and security guards were arrested, and the workers were finally freed from bondage.
The rescue effort also reportedly involved the BAT, the Anti-Human Trafficking Division of the Royal Thai Police (AHTD), United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), the Foundation for Education and Development (FED) based in Thailand’s Phang Nga Province, and the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.
A male worker who escaped from virtual slavery told The Irrawaddy that some of the victims were trapped there for up to two years and that when unwell were not allowed to receive medical treatment. Everybody had to work approximately 20 hours a day without any days off, he said.
He also said that Kyaw Soe, the Burmese charge-hand who was arrested together with the factory owner, treated the workers cruelly and even slapped their faces sometimes.
“Once I got out of the factory, I felt I had gone from hell to heaven,” he said.
On May 15, Thai police in nearby Samut Prakan Province arrested more than 1,000 migrant workers, 386 of whom were from Burma, while the rest were from Laos and Cambodia. The arrest was carried out due to alleged drug dealing by some workers, Thai newspapers reported.
According to organizations assisting migrant workers in Thailand, there are about four million Burmese, only half of whom have official documents, currently working in the kingdom.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Strike at Buleh garment factory, Hlaing Thar Yar

According to Myanmar News Now workers from Buleh (Pearl) garment factory in Hlaing Thar Yar, Yangon went on strike on 15 May over low wages and wage deductions.
လႈိင္သာယာၿမိဳ႕နယ္စက္မႈဇံု (၃) ဘုရားလမ္းေပၚရွိ ပုလဲအထည္ခ်ဳပ္စက္ရံု အလုပ္သမားဆႏၵျပမႈအား ညွိႏိႈင္းေပးရာတြင္ အလုပ္ရံုႏွင့္ အလုပ္သမား ဥပေဒစစ္ေဆးေရးဦးစီးဌာန မွ ညြန္ၾကားေရးမႈးခ်ဳပ္ ဦး၀င္းရွိန္ႏွင့္ ဒုတိယညႊန္ၾကားေရးမႈးခ်ဳပ္ ဦးသန္းႏိုင္တို႔က အမ်ားျပည္သူေရွ႕ေမွာက္၌ ပထမဦးဆံုးအႀကိမ္အျဖစ္ ညွိႏိႈင္းေပးခဲ့သည္။

Monday, 14 May 2012

Strike at the Sabeh-Pwint garment factory

RFA reports that workers at the Sabeh-Pwint (Jasmine Blossom) garment factory have gone on strike starting 14 May, 2012.
လွိဳင္သာယာၿမိဳ႕နယ္ စက္မႈဇုန္ ၄ စပယ္ပြင့္ အထည္ခ်ဳပ္စက္ရုံက အလုပ္သမားေတြဟာ လုပ္ခလစာ တုိးျမွင့္ရရွိေရးအတြက္ ဒီကေန႔ ဆႏၵျပခဲ့ၾကပါတယ္။ အေျခခံလုပ္ခလစာဟာ က်ပ္တစ္ေသာင္းေက်ာ္ ႏွစ္ေသာင္း၀န္းက်င္ပဲ ရတဲ့အတြက္ လုပ္ခလစာ အေျခခံ သံုးေသာင္းေက်ာ္နဲ႔ အခ်ိန္ပိုေၾကးအပါအ၀င္ တစ္လကုိအနည္းဆုံး ၇ ေသာင္းေလာက္ ရလုိေၾကာင္း ဆႏၵျပအလုပ္သမားေတြက ေျပာပါတယ္။ ဒီစပယ္ပြင့္စက္ရုံဟာ တရုတ္ပုိင္စက္ရုံ ျဖစ္တယ္လုိ႔ အလုပ္သမားေတြက ေျပာပါတယ္။ ေလာေလာဆယ္ အလုပ္သမား ေခါင္းေဆာင္ ၅ ဦးကုိေခၚယူၿပီး အလုပ္သမားေရးရာဌာနနဲ႔ အလုပ္ရွင္တုိ႔က ညႇိႏႈိင္းေဆြးေႏြး ေနတယ္လုိ႔ သိရပါတယ္။ အဲဒီ အထည္ခ်ဳပ္စက္ရုံမွာ အလုပ္သမား ၅၀၀ ေလာက္ရွိၿပီး ဒီကေန႔ အလုပ္သမား အားလုံးနီးပါးက အခုလုိ အလုပ္မဆင္းဘဲ ဆႏၵျပေနၾကတာျဖစ္ေၾကာင္း ဆႏၵျပအလုပ္သမားေတြက ေျပာဆုိခဲ့ပါတယ္။

Foreign investment in Myanmar

Investor Interactive has provided some detail on new foreign investment in Myanmar
"Burma is open for business once more" has been the cry that has gone up from many on hearing the news that EU sanctions are to be suspended on the military-dominated state. Indeed many have declared a gold rush, but for British businesses and investors alike there is opportunity and obstacle in equal measure in this underdeveloped nation. Burma is an attractive prospect, with massive precious metal and gem reserves, 22 trillion cubic feet of gas and 215 million barrels of oil, a 60 million population baying for prosperity and the spending power that goes with it - and all this situated between economic powerhouses, India and China. In March [2012], Burma further reformed its foreign investment laws. Investors can now own 100% of businesses without the need of a local partner, there will be a five-year tax holiday for foreign firms, and companies can now lease land from individuals as well as the state. But new restrictions were put in place that mean all unskilled and 25% of skilled workers must be Burmese after five years, with this figure rising to 75% in 15 years. Nevertheless, those in the know have warned against a headlong rush into the country, highlighting a number of pitfalls for those looking to move into the market. Ranjiv Biswas, chief Asia economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "The transition towards a more market-driven economy will itself create challenges, as Vietnam and others would agree. Some of the key challenges facing [Burma] are the need to improve the business climate, reform of the state-owned enterprises, development of the financial sector, and vital corporate governance and anti-corruption initiatives."

Update on the Hi-Mo wig factory strike

The Myanmar Times reports that the workers at the Hi-Mo factory have won an increase in wages as a result of their strike action:
Workers at a South Korean-owned wig factory in Hlaing Tharyar have secured a significant pay increase following a two-day strike.More than 1000 employees from the Hi-Mo factory, which is owned by a company called High-Art, staged a sit-in protest at the Labour Exchange Office in Mayangone township on May 9 and 10, refusing to return to work until 78 grievances had been addressed. At 2pm on May 10, the factory owner acquiesced to their demands, a lawyer for the workers said. The factory employs 18,000 workers and exports wigs to China, South Korea and Japan.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Strike at the Myth Garment factory

RFA reports that about 200 workers from the Myth Garment factory in Hlaing Thar Yar went on strike on May 11.
ရန္ကုန္တုိင္း၊ လိႈင္သာယာ စက္မႈဇုန္ ၇၊ ေရႊဘိုလမ္းမွာရွိတဲ့ Myth အထည္ခ်ဳပ္စက္ရံုက အလုပ္သမား ၂၀၀ ေလာက္ဟာ ဒီကေန႔ ညေနပိုင္းက မရမ္းကုန္းၿမိဳ႕နယ္ အလုပ္သမားရံုးမွာ လုပ္ခလစာ တုိးေပးေရးအတြက္ ေတာင္းဆို ဆႏၵျပခဲ့ၾကပါတယ္။

Anatomy of a migrant strike

New Mandala has an account of a recent strike by workers at the SD Fashion (formerly "Champion") factory in Mae Sot.  This account has also been reprinted in Mizzima News:
On Friday, 4 May 2012 about 500 Myanmar migrant workers employed at the SD Fashion/Idea Garment factory in Mae Sot, Tak Province, claimed victory in a struggle against their employer for increased wages and improved living and working conditions.  The workers achieved a doubling of their wages as a result of a two-day wildcat strike they initiated on Wednesday 2 May.  This case is just one of a string of collective actions carried out by migrants in Songkla, Kanchanaburi and Tak Provinces following the 1 April increase in Thailand’s minimum wage.

Myanmar migrants to be deported

The Nation reports that 26 undocumented Myanmar migrants were "rounded up" by an "army task force" at a rubber and palm plantation in Chumphon Provinceon on 12 May.  The migrants had been "taken from the border province of Ranong... from where they were due to be sent to Malaysia."  A Thai couple who were involved "were to be paid Bt2,000-Bt3,000 per head for their part in the scheme."

Thursday, 10 May 2012

New workers and farmers unions formed

The Irrawaddy blog has a report about new unions formed in Mandalay and Naypyidaw with the assistance of the recently established Committee to Form Independent Labour Unions (လြတ္လပ္ေသာ အလုပ္သမား သမဂၢမ်ား ေပၚေပါက္ေရး ေကာ္မတီ).  According to Ma Ee Shwe Sin, who helped establish this "Committee" this past March:
ေနျပည္ေတာ္၀န္းက်င္ လယ္ေ၀းၿမိဳ႕နယ္မွာ သမဂၢ ၂ခုကို ဧၿပီလ ၃၀ ရက္ေန႕ က်မတို႕ ေအာင္ျမင္စြာ ဖြဲ႕စည္းႏိုင္ခဲ့ ပါတယ္။ ဒီသမဂၢကို စနစ္က် စည္းမ်ဥ္းေတြ ေရးဆြဲၿပီးေနာက္မွာ တရား၀င္ ရပ္တည္ႏိုင္ေရးအတြက္ အစိုးရဆီမွာ မွတ္ပံုတင္မွာ ျဖစ္ပါတယ္။ ေလာေလာဆယ္မွာေတာ့ မွတ္ပံုမတင္ရေသးတာရယ္။ ဒီလို သမဂၢဖြဲ႕ရတာဟာ လြယ္ကူတာေတာ့ မဟုတ္ပါဘူး။ အဘက္ဘက္က ဖိအားေတြ ရွိပါတယ္။ ပူးေပါင္းပါ၀င္ခ်င္ေပမဲ့ အႏွစ္ႏွစ္အလလက သံမႈိႏွက္သလို စြဲေနတဲ့ အေၾကာက္တရားေတြေၾကာင့္လည္း ပါ၀င္ခ်င္ေပမဲ့ မရဲတဲ့သူေတြ ရွိေနေသးတာေၾကာင့္ က်မတို႕လည္း သိုသိုသိပ္သိပ္ လုပ္ရတဲ့အခါလည္း ရွိပါတယ္
Also Mizzima has a report about a farmers union formed in Kachin State.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Strike at the Hi-Mo Hi-Art wig factory

Workers at the Korean owned Hi-Mo Hi-Art wig factory in Hlaing Thar Yar industrial zone went on strike over a demand for higher daily and overtime wages on Wednesday, May 9th, 2012.  BBC, RFA , Irrawaddy and DVB all have Myanmar language reports about the strike, and the Irrawaddy has an English language report as well.

[Update 11 May 2012: RFA video with interviews with strikers; News about the strikers demands being met: RFA and Mizzima TV]

Foreign investment = employment = rising living standards?

There have recently been a slew of articles from news sources around the world predicting an economic boom in Myanmar, with foreign investors "creating jobs", "lifting the population out of poverty" and "growing the middle class", while at the same time "making a killing" for themselves. Is the economic transformation in Myanmar a win-win process for everyone involved? I'm not so sure. Like other transformations, there are bound to be both winners and losers, and a more balanced and systematic analysis of the costs and benefits of this transition is needed.  In any case, here is a recent account by Australia's ABC news network:
It will take time for Burma's 60-million-strong population to see the economic benefits of the new interest, but already there is an emphasis on corporate social responsibility, amid concern that people will be forgotten by international investors who are only looking to extract profits. "This is a labour-intensive country - there's lots of labour available. People need jobs, people are unemployed, people are impoverished, people are underemployed," says development consultant Daniel Gelfer. "There's a need for massive employment both in skilled and unskilled labour, and I hope that investment would help fill some of those gaps." Industries previously flattened by trade restrictions are preparing for an economic revival. Among them is the garment sector, which before sanctions employed more than 300,000 people.... "We have about 150 factories running at the moment with 100,000 workers - at one time down to 60,000 thousand workers from 350,000 workers - and we are trying to create a job opportunity for them," said Khine Khine Nwe from Burma's Garment Manufacturer's Association.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Why are migrants leaving Mae Sot?

The Nation has an provocative article about the "problem" of Myanmar migrants leaving Tak Province for better paid work in Bangkok and other large urban centres. I reproduce the article below, interjected with some commentary:
Employers in five border districts of Tak face a shortage of workers as many migrants have "escaped" to work in inner cities after the government implemented its Bt300 minimum wage policy. Due to gaps in the law, many Myanmar workers in Mae Sot have relocated to cities in central areas, while hundreds of millions of baht has circulated in the underground system.
The reason migrants are leaving the Mae Sot area is not "due to gaps in the law" but gaps between the legal minimum wage and the actual wage paid locally.  If migrants were receiving the legal minimum wage they would by and large not be leaving, as Mae Sot has other advantages, including proximity to Myanmar (home), the availability of Myanmar language schools for their children, and a lower cost of living.
Chaiwat Praserttum, president of the Entrepreneur Association in five districts of Tak province, said factories in the cities were now looking to replace Thai workers with migrants because of the Bt300 minimum daily wage policy for local workers - to cut labour costs.
The Bt300 minimum daily wage police is not just applicable "for local workers", migrants are also legally entitled to this rate of pay.
This trafficking is generally known in Mae Sot, one of the five border districts, which 90 per cent of registered and unregistered workers from Myanmar come through in Thailand.
An agent will gather workers in border areas to meet the demands of city factories. He or she will receive Bt15,000 to Bt18,000 per worker from city employers, who are prepared to hire workers that flee from other employers. This leads to illegal employment and more loopholes for government officers to gain profit. The five districts are Mae Sot, Phop Phra, Umphang, Mae Ramat and Tha Song Yang. A source in Mae Sot, who asked not to be named, said 40-50 recruitment agencies have set up offices in the district. Chaiwat noted the failure of government officers to protect employers and stop migrant workers from travelling to inner provinces even though they are still under contract with employers in border areas.
It the government wants to "protect" these employers from worker flight, they could start by making these employers pay their workers the legal minimum wage, provide one day off per week, and not make overtime obligatory.
"The process of labour trafficking is different from what it was in the past. The problem has become more severe because traffickers of migrant workers bring hundreds out of designated areas each day without having to do so discreetly, in disguise or by travelling through forests," Chaiwat said. "Nowadays, traffickers can openly bring migrant workers to inner areas - profiting from their holding passports. The passport is a loophole in the law and a government system that the workers take advantage of," he said. Workers claim their passport permit allows them to travel freely across the country. As a result, the police make no attempt to stop their travel.
Their passports do allow them to travel freely across the country.
However, working in areas outside of that named on a work permit violates Section 27 of the Immigrant Worker Act, Chaiwat said. Employers in border areas put up around Bt10,000 per migrant worker to make their employment legal, he said. So, when workers run off or are led by agents to work in other cities, employers lose their money as well as their workforce. The association agreed with the policy of registering migrant workers. Nevertheless, it felt the state overlooks other difficulties that entrepreneurs in border areas have to face. Warapan Sae Khow, a construction business owner, said companies have to face debt problems and cannot complete work for customers due to the shortage of labourers. They also worry that workers will run off to the cities for higher pay. Chaiwat said another problem for employers was the month-long process of acquiring a passport and visa for migrant workers through the Department of Employment, as opposed to the more convenient but much more expensive way of doing this via private companies. He claimed employers were forced to use private companies to avoid the delay, even though they have to pay two or three times more. Employers agreed to pay Bt5,500 to private companies for the 'nationality verification' of a worker compared to the Bt1,050 fee that would be paid directly to the government agency, he said. The source in Mae Sot pointed out similar problems with state officials, loopholes in the law and the nationality identification process. Some private companies benefit greatly from the nationality verification process. Some firms in Myanmar cooperate with those in Thailand to send workers across the border. Later, companies contact and persuade migrants to work in inner areas of Thailand. The incompetence of state officials and the costly process of legal migrant employment leads some factories to a policy of having a workforce that is half-legal and half-illegal. Employers were willing to pay a middleman for mutual benefit, the source said.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The lives of workers in Myanmar have not yet changed

DVD has an article from this past May Day about the fact that despite reforms in Myanmar the lives of most ordinary workers have not yet significantly improved:
အလုပ်သမား​ေတွ ဘဝ တိုး​တက်​ေြပာင်း​လဲလာဖို့​ဆိုရင်၊​ အလုပ်သမား​ေတွရဲ့​ လုပ်ခလစာက​ေန၊​ အလုပ်သမား​ဥပ​ေဒ၊​ ​ေနာက် တရား​ရံုး​ေတွ သမာသမတ်ကျဖို့​ အထိ အ​ေြပာင်း​အလဲ​ေတွ လိုအပ်​ေန​ေသး​တယ်လို့​ အလုပ်သမား​အခွင့်​အ​ေရး​ လှုပ်ရှား​သူ​ေတွက ​ေြပာြကပါတယ်။

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

May Day 2012 in Yangon

The following DVB article discusses Myanmar president U Thein Sein's May Day address as well as the commemoration of May Day by workers and unions in Yangon.
Burma’s President Thein Sein May Day published a May Day address in state newspapers claiming the government has launched a programme to eradicate forced labour by 2015. “Our elected government has been in the office for over a year and it is high time we eliminate all forms of forced labour once and for all, [which] will enhance the eternal principles of justice, liberty, equality in the Union,” wrote the president. Thein Sein said the government has created laws that allowed for the creation of independent labour organisations that aim to protect workers’ rights and facilitate relations between employees and employers. “I would like to urge all the workers and workers’ organisations, employers and employees’ organisations to work together with the Union Government in unity with strong determination to build a modern developed democratic nation,” said the president. Workers and labour activists celebrated International Labour Day yesterday across Burma. In Rangoon, several labour unions in the region rallied together in Thanlyin township for the first time since Thein Sein’s government came to office. “Forced labour is not the only labour issue in our country,” said Htun Htun Naing of the Committee to Form Independent Labour Unions. “We need to be able to form independent labour unions and be paid salaries appropriate with their work output.” The Labour Organisation Bill, which was signed into law last year, brought an end to the draconian 1962 Trade Unions Act that effectively banned all trade unions in the country. Burmese workers can now legally go on strike, with the proviso that if they work in the private sector they give three days notice, and if in a public utility, 14 days. But problems still remain for workers, despite the bill having been showcased as a key signal of the government reformist agenda. Several other labour right activists including 88 Generation Students’ Ko Ko Gyi, and Su Su Nway spoke at the event. “Although the 1988 uprising was rooted from inside the university compounds, workers were the most important and crucial force that put a full stop to the whole government machine. Had the workers not joined in the demonstrations, the single-party system would have remained in our country,” said Ko Ko Gyi. The holiday was also observed by Burmese migrants in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Mae Sot, where workers demanded full labour rights and appropriate pay and leave time.

European Burma Network: Investment and trade in Burma

The European Burma Network has released a statement on "Investment and Trade in Burma", which addresses some concerns about the possibility of labour rights violations following from the country's current economic transformations and the increase in foreign investment in labour intensive industries. I excerpt the relevant sections here:
The European Burma Network warns companies not to view Burma simply as a country where they can exploit cheap labour... The UN Special Rapporteur on Burma also raised the possibility of a shift towards different types of abuses in a changing economy. “Given the wave of privatisations last year and the expected increase in foreign investment, along with the new government’s plans to accelerate economic development, I also fear an increase in... violations of economic, social and cultural rights,” ... Burma lacks laws to regulate companies, to protect workers... The European Burma Network will work with, and in support of, local communities and workers to monitor the activities of European companies operating in Burma. Companies which... are linked to any human rights abuses, exploitation of workers or suppliers... will be targeted for high profile campaigns by members of the European Burma Network. These could include boycotts, protests, shareholder actions and exposure in the media of their links to any abuses. All national and international legal options will also be pursued.

Independent Myanmar Artist Alliance

I just came across an April 16, 2012 post on the Pansodan Art Gallery blog, which provides a bit more information about the newly formed Independent Myanmar Artist Alliance.
Pansodan’s contribution to improve the life of artists in their own country is the Independent Myanmar Artist Alliance, mentioned in the Guardian article. It was the idea of Aung Soe Min, and is hosted by Pansodan Gallery. It is a new model of professional association — somewhat like a union, but without most of the bureaucracy and positions that, no matter how noble the initial ideas, later tend to be used for obstruction and gain.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

What is the Phuket Governor really scared of?

The Nation and the Phuket News have reported that Phuket Governor Tri Akkhadecha has prohibited a May Day concert organised by Myanmar migrant workers living in Phuket Province. According to The Nation:
Phuket Governor Tri Akkhadecha said Monday that he has prohibited concerts by entertainers from Myanmar for workers from the neighbouring country working in his island province on Labour Day, Tuesday. Tri said he was informed by local officials that several organisers had sought permission to hold concerts by Myanmar entertainers for workers from Myanmar in several areas in Phuket, including Muang, Thalang sand Krathu districts. He said the officials were told that some 10,000 tickets had been sold. But he informed the officials that the concerts could not be approved. Moreover, the Phuket Provincial Administration put up announcements at various places, telling workers from Myanmar and Cambodia to return to their shelters before 8pm. Tri said that if workers from neighbouring countries were allowed to stay out after 8pm on the Labour Day, arguments could occur and the situation might get out of control. Thungthon police station commander Pol Col Kraithong Chanthong said a group of Mon entertainers sought permission for holding concerts from April 28 to 30 but he had declined to approve it for fear that the concert goers would start fighting.
And according to the Phuket News:
Phuket authorities have turned down two applications by Burmese migrants to stage concerts on the island, citing concerns of possible violence that might get out of control. Phuket Governor Tri Augkaradacha said today (April 30) that he was afraid of the possibility that a concert planned for tomorrow in Thalang District would turn out to be “harmful rather than entertaining.” He said he had been told that the organisers of the concert had sold more than 10,000 tickets, even though permission for the event had not been granted. The governor said that this would be a large gathering of Burmese and might deteriorate into brawls between immigrant gangs. The other application came from a group of Mon migrant workers, who applied for permission to stage concerts at Thungtong fresh market over three nights, from Saturday until today (April 28-30). The superintendent of Thungtong Police Station, Pol Col Kraitong Jantongbai, said the group told police they expected 6,000 to 10,000 people to come to the event. This sparked police concern about security, and they turned down the application. In recent years, a number of crimes related to immigrant workers have been reported on media. The most notorious involved fatal fights between Burmese, or murders by Burmese of other Burmese. Police have found it hard to track down the perpetrators because of the large number of Burmese who have entered Thailand illegally and are therefore not documented. Gov Tri also noted regulations that restrict immigrant workers from gathering after 8pm. The regulations are in place to give authorities greater ability to control migrant workers. In Phuket’s history, no concert proposal by Burmese organisers has ever been granted permission.