Friday, 26 December 2014

On garment workers in Hlaing Thar Yar

"Myanmar's garment workers join forces amid lure of city jobs," Reuters, 1 Dec 2014

"The 35-year-old is now an active member of Thone Pan Hla, Myanmar's first female garment factory workers association, sharing her experience with young newcomers from the countryside. Women account for an estimated 90 percent of the 180,000 workers in Myanmar's garment industry, which is expanding again following the easing of international sanctions. Clothing exports are expected to be worth $1.5 billion in 2014. News of job prospects in the city is spreading, and thousands of young women from villages and towns across Myanmar are pouring into city factories for their first ever taste of financial independence. Yet for many of these young women, the transition from life in the village - with parents' strict guidance and financial support - to the city can be fraught with risks and challenges. Young women can easily fall prey to unscrupulous landlords and supervisors, said Helen Gunthorpe, founder of Business Kind, a social enterprise that helped set up Thone Pan Hla in 2011... Thone Pan Hla has no political affiliation and focuses on the welfare of women garment workers. Its 'Sunday Cafe' and temporary dormitory provide a space for women to make friends, learn skills and share tips to help newly-arrived women ease into their new lives... Most garment workers earn about $80 to $120 a month and toil 12 hours a day, six days a week, in Hlaing Thar Yar, a factory town outside the former capital Yangon. The spacious Sunday Cafe - launched in August and open on workers' one day off - offers snacks and tea, a small library with books and magazines, a place to wash and iron clothes and a flat-screen TV showing Hollywood movies and Korean soap operas.
Upstairs, the temporary dormitory for new migrants has space for 18 women. Gunthorpe said that her organization received small grants in 2011 and 2012 that allowed research into the lives of garment workers, leading to the establishment of Thone Pan Hla. "The need was easy to see because there was no organization for women garment workers here in Myanmar at the time," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Thone Pan Hla currently has around 2,000 members, who pay a one-time membership fee of 300 kyats (about 30 cents). Aye Cho Khine is one of a handful of members who turn up for regular meetings at the Sunday Cafe. "We're new so we're still trying to gain momentum," Aye Cho Khine said. "Only time will tell how useful we can be but having a space like this to meet and share will at least broaden the horizon for the newcomers." Myanmar once had a thriving garment industry, employing close to 300,000 people before the United States imposed trade sanctions in July 2003, said Khine Khine Nwe, joint secretary general of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association. "After the sanctions, it went as low as 60,000. Almost half of the factories gradually closed down," she said. With sanctions now suspended or lifted, the garment industry is expected to continue growing. So will the need to support the industry's workers. "A lot of young women spend most of their days in factories, and they don't have the opportunity to meet each other, share ideas and make friends," said Win Yu Khine, 26, who earns $96 a month, sitting with friends at the Sunday Cafe. "This is fun."
Khine Khine Nwe welcomes the idea of the Sunday Cafe but said it should also be open to female employers like herself. "It should be a space for every woman in the industry where once you enter, nobody is an employer or nobody is an employee... a platform to make us feel we're the same."

Strikes and protests in Myanmar

On Myanmar's minimum wage

"As Lawmakers Raise Pay, Minimum Wage Law Languishes," The Irrawaddy, 19 Nov 2014

"Minimum wage talks ongoing," DVB, 23 Dec 2014

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Myanmar workers' struggles (Sept - Oct 2014)

"Myanmar police officers injured freeing hostages in factory rally," 17 Sept. 2014.

"Nine Myanmar police officers were injured as they sought to free officials held hostage by dozens of angry workers demanding wages and compensation after their factory was shuttered, authorities said on Thursday (Sep 18). More than 150 former staff descended on the Master Sport shoe facility on the outskirts of Yangon on Tuesday, demanding payment following the closure of the South Korean-owned factory in June... Kyaw Kyaw Tun, assistant director of the labour ministry's factories department, said five government officials arrived hoping to defuse the situation, but were promptly taken hostage by the workers. "They (workers) said they had been waiting so long and that they wouldn't let them go if they didn't get their salaries by the end of this month. But they didn't harm them," he told AFP."

"Scores injured after police ‘rescue’ official from workers," Myanmar Times, 22 Sept. 2014.

"Clashes between police and angry workers occupying a shoe factory led to nearly 60 casualties on September 16, according to eyewitnesses. The police said they were trying to free members of a government mediation team who apparently feared for their safety while negotiating with the workers.... “The workers were trying to detain the director general inside the factory compound, rejecting the implementing of compensation procedures.”
Police Major Chit Oo insisted that his officers had conducted the raid in line with international standards and training on crowd management supported by the European Union. He said workers had thrown plastic bottles of drinking water and beat the police with bamboo sticks, and the police had defended themselves with their shields. “I was hit with a wooden stick,” he said. “We did not attack the workers. Some workers might have been injured because of broken glass and iron sheets – we were wearing boots, but the workers were not. We were just trying to rescue the director general.”

"After Months, Hundreds of Garment Workers Receive Overdue Pay," 17 Oct. 2014

"Some 750 laid-off workers of the closed down South Korean Master Sports factory in Rangoon received their unpaid salaries and severance pay from the Ministry of Labor on Friday, after it auctioned off the property of the factory last week... Tens of thousands of workers are employed in labor-intensive industries at 14 industrial zones around Burma’s commercial capital. Garment and footwear factories are the biggest industrial employers, with about 100,000 workers total.

Domestic labour and industrialization updates

Updates on domestic labour and industrialization issues:

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Some stats on Myanmar migrant schools in Thailand

"Migrant workers still cheated in Thailand," Myanmar Eleven, 3 September 2014
"...A report by the Myanmar migrant workers' protection committee at the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand last year said there were 147 free schools for migrants in that country. But the number was likely to decrease by 10, due to a general lack of funding... About four million migrant workers from Myanmar work in Thailand. Half of the children of these workers are educated at these schools, which are often not totally free."

Myanmar rank-and-filers seek to oust union boss

An interesting case of rank-and-filers seeking to oust the union boss. ("Theatre workers demand resignation of national association boss," Myanmar Times, 4 September 2014.)
"About 180 theatre workers from upper Myanmar have staged a protest demanding the chair of the Myanmar Theatrical Association, Pantra U Mya Kyi, resign over recent comments in which he said the theatre industry doesn’t support scrapping section 436 of the constitution. Section 436 of the constitution gives the military a veto over constitutional change. A recent National League for Democracy petition calling for section 436 to be removed attracted nearly 5 million signatures, and a parliamentary committee is considering whether to propose a change to the section. The protest, which was held with permission from township authorities, took place in Mandalay’s Chan Aye Thar San township on August 28. “We demonstrated because we can’t accept what he said,” said U Sein Mottar, chair of the Mandalay Region Theatrical Association. “He disgraced the entire society of theatrical performers. We will keep demonstrating until he resigns.” A petition calling for Pantra U Mya Kyi’s resignation was signed by more than 1500 theatre workers from Mandalay, Sagaing and Magwe regions and Kachin, Shan and Kayar states, and then sent to Minister for Culture U Aye Myint Kyu, protest leaders said. “What he said, that the movement to amend section 436 doesn’t relate to theatrical performers, could mislead our audiences,” said U Pout Kyaing, secretary of the Mandalay Region branch of the association. Protest organisers allege that U Mya Kyi also staged a fundraiser without the agreement of regional theatre associations and personally dismissed members of township-level theatre associations. “Our Mandalay Region association didn’t know at all that the central association raised money at the Taungpyone Nat Festival in [Madaya] township,” U Pout Kyaing said. “He ought to shield theatre society if someone else is insulting our performers. But now he has even insulted us,” Ko Win Naung, a drama actor said."

Update on Thailand's post-coup migrant registration process

"Over 1m migrant workers register," Bangkok Post, 5 September 2014
"More than one million migrant workers registered with the government’s one-stop service centres as of Friday, with Cambodians accounting for more than 40% of the total. Sumeth Mahosot, director-general of Department of Employment, said 1,011,295 migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos have registered to work in Thailand. There were 443,051 people from Cambodia, of which 418,457 are workers and 24,594 dependents. Another 407,038 people hailed from Myanmar, comprising 371,726 workers and 26,662 dependents. A total of 161,206 Laotians also registered, comprising of 154,083 workers and 7,123 dependents. Registration of migrant workers became required after Thailand's military regime launched a campaign to rid the kingdom of illegal foreigner workers in July. After an initial panic that saw more than 200,000 Cambodians flee construction sites and other jobs, the government opened service centres where migrants and their employers could register and obtain 60-day temporary work permits without legal repercussions for earlier working illegally in the country. Registration remains open until Oct 31."

Why are Myanmar workers not obtaining employment-related benefits?

Why is there a gap between Myanmar workers' official benefits and what they actually obtain?  Is it really only due to a lack of awareness? ("Worker benefits increase but awareness stays low," DVB, 27 August 2014)
"The official explained during the session, which was open for questions by lawmakers, that while benefits are increasing, awareness remains low and many workers are not redeeming their full privileges."
What about those workers who employment arrangements (especially, part-time, temporary, and piece-rate work) exclude them from these benefits?

Andy Hall comments on his trial

Migrant rights activist Andy Hall comments on the charges against him ("On trial today - Thailand's food workers' rights," Ecologist, 2 September 2014):
"But I am indeed not a criminal. I am just a 34 year old British migrant rights defender and researcher working in Thailand for a decade now. During this time, I simply tried to empower and defend migrant workers, particularly from Myanmar."

Thursday, 28 August 2014

When workers riot...

I would very much like to know the story behind this very article.

From Malaysia Digest, 26 August 2014, "Myanmar Workers Burn Car, Damage Factory During JB Riot."
A group of Myanmar foreign workers set ablaze a Proton Iswara Aeroback and damaged a factory in a riot at Desa Perindustrian Kulai 2, Kelapa Sawit here this morning. It is learnt that the group of foreign workers had a misunderstanding with the management and went on a riot at 11.20am. In the incident, the factory's front facade was damaged, while a Proton Iswara Aeroback was set ablaze and turned upside down. The Fire and Rescue Services Department was immediately despatched to the scene and the fire was under control at 11.38am.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Thailand's projected migrant labour shortage

"Bangladesh eyed to fill labour gap," Bangkok Post, 1 August 2014

"If there is still a shortage, workers will be imported and Bangladesh will be the main target, he said. Migrant worker registration is part of the National Council for Peace and Order's plans to end human trafficking and labour shortages... Bangladesh and Vietnam have shown interest in sending workers to Thailand. Vietnam has eyed the construction and service sectors, while Bangladesh would send their workers into the fishing industry." 

Analysis of post-coup migrant crackdown

(This is old, but I'm adding it for reference.)

"Ominous signs for migrant workers in Thailand," New Mandala, 15 June 2014
Prayuth Chan-Ocha declared his intention to move forward with SBEZs in his televised address to the nation on Friday, 30 May 2014, the rationale given: to prevent ‘illegal migrants from crossing into inner provinces of Thailand, thereby giving more work opportunities to Thai nationals’
"Prayuth, junta policy on migrant workers, and non-traditional threats to national security," Bangkok Pundit, 17 June 2014
Prayuth: "We have already proposed this to previous governments on how to restrict people from coming into the inner parts of the country, prevent illegal and criminal activities, including those relating to drugs. If we can keep these people around the borders on a daily work basis, then both migrant workers and the local people will benefit from jobs and earn enough income to provide for their families. I think it would help reduce the problems."

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Eleven Media: Most Myanmar migrant workers have no desire to come back—Rights Network

So, contrary to an IOM survey presented last December, according to which "Most Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand would like to return home, and the country could face a shortage of over five million workers as a result by 2025,"  the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) is now saying "Most Myanmar migrant workers have no desire to come back."  According to Eleven Media (23 March, 2014):
Most Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand have not returned to Myanmar due to poor business and employment opportunities back home, sources from the Thailand-based Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) say.
There are very few migrant workers who want to return home and resettle there. The salaries they have in Thailand are not enough for them to return to Myanmar. Although their aim is to resettle back home after ten years of working in Thailand, they can’t save enough to do that,” said Kyaw Zaw Lynn, MWRN secretary and planning manager for the Network’s Yangon branch office.
However, added Kyaw Zaw Lynn, the migrant workers cannot support their families due to low salaries here. They say they will come back only if the salary in Myanmar is nearly equal to what they earn in Thailand.
Myanmar workers rarely came back for visits to Myanmar before 2009. That was because they were illegally working in Thailand and they faced other problems such as threats to their lives and human trafficking. Moreover, the travel expense was so expensive. Since 2009, more Myanmar migrant workers have returned home because they have temporary passports and visas to work in Thailand officially,” he said.
Myanmar workers in Thailand have very few rights and are working for whatever salary the employers provide. They also face lack of job security in Thailand, and police are often threatening the workers to pay bribe fees.
Myanmar workers need to change their temporary passports into standard passports. However, they are facing other problems because the registration number for their insurance, driver’s licence, bank accounts and other documents issued for the temporary passports will be different from those issued for the standard passports.

Myanmar workers' struggles in Mae Sot, Phuket and Myanmar

Recent workers' struggles in Thailand and Myanmar:

"Myanmar Embassy Official visits Phuket over allegations of workers’ rights violations," Phuket Gazette, 26 March 2014

"Mae Sot migrants demand labour rights," Democratic Voice of Burma, 26 March 2014,
Nearly a thousand Burmese migrant workers staged a rally outside their garment factory in northern Thailand, calling for improved labour rights. Workers at the Thai-owned Yuan Jiou Garment Co Ltd in Thailand’s border town Mae Sot are striking over unpaid wages and long working hours. A factory worker told DVB they are punished for not keeping up with demands. “We have to work from 8 am until 10 o’clock at night and make 120 garments. If we cannot make them we are all scolded. If we can make 120 garments, they ask for 140 garments the next day,” he said. The minimum wage in Thailand is 300 baht (US$9) per day. However the migrant workers said they are not receiving that amount, and are forced to lie during inspections of the factory. “If we tell the truth, we are laid off from work,” another worker at the factory said. One worker said they get fined 200 baht (US$6) for taking sick leave or for attending family emergencies such as funerals. “If we ask for leave we don’t get it right away. We still have to work in the factory while we are sick,” said a migrant worker. “We have to jump through many hoops to get a signature for leave. There are many problems.” The workers are demanding they receive minimum wage plus overtime pay. They want adequate sick leave and financial help for those who are injured at work, and shorter working hours. The migrant workers have complained to the Thai Department of Labour Protection and Welfare but said they would continue with their protest, until their demands have been met.
"Wanbao workers walk off job for better pay," Eleven Media, 23 March 2014
Trainee graduates working for the Myanmar-Wanbao company refused to work on Saturday (March 22) and held out for twice as much pay. The company currently pays US$ 120 a month to both graduates and general workers. A total of 234 trainee graduates are demanding US$ 240 instead of the current amount and refused to sign an employment contract for US$ 120. “They are residents of 26 villages near the project area. Even a general worker gets US$ 110 in Yansi and a trucker whose education is only the eighth standard gets US$ 180,” said an employee from the company. One villager complained about nepotistic hiring practices at the company.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Just-Style: Hlaing Tha Yar garment factory workers secure 20% pay rise

Just-Style reports ("Workers at garment factory secure 20% pay rise"), 19 March 2014:
Collective bargaining by a union in Burma/Myanmar has secured a 20% pay rise for garment workers at a factory in Yangon. The IndustriAll Global Union said the increase for workers at the Yes 1 facility was won after “tense and drawn-out” negotiations, and was formulated in an Industriall training workshop attended by union president Win Theinghi Soe, as well as other executive committee members, in December 2013. The Korean owners of the factory in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone agreed to a pay rise equivalent to US$26, taking the maximum monthly salary for the 1,600 workers (1,200 of them union members) from $124 to $150. Industriall said there were now an estimated 400 garment factories in Myanmar, employing more than 200,000 workers and growing fast.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Select articles: Jan - Feb 2014

Select articles from January - February 2014.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Eleven Media: Farmers become migrant workers as the farming worsen

"Farmers become migrant workers as the farming worsen", Eleven Media, 12 Jan 2014

Due to various reasons, farmers nowadays are leaving their farm and became migrant workers, according to the questions asked to farmers’ environment. Land confiscation, high cost in expenditure for cultivation, low cost for the yield crops, small production due to poor technology in farming, climatic changes and scarcity of cattle are some of the reasons why farmers leave their leave their farm to become migrant workers.

The Irrawaddy: Burma Opens New Passport Offices Around the Country

"Burma Opens New Passport Offices Around the Country", The Irrawaddy, 10 Jan 2014

Burmese citizens can now apply for and directly receive passports at 15 locations around the country. Previously the country had only one passport office, in Rangoon.

Burmese migrants stabbed in "gang battle"

The Phuket Wan reports on 8 Jan 2014: PHUKET:

Two Burmese were killed near a Red Cross concert last night on Phuket after a Thai superstar became embroiled in Thailand's national election protest and the concert was banned from going ahead. The killings of the two Burmese in a gang battle is likely to see a night curfew imposed immediately at the scores of workers' camps across the popular international holiday island.