People and workers cannot hope anything from the military dictatorship for the improvement of their lives.”
Workers in Myanmar have suffered the impacts of increasing prices in gold, hard currency and general commodities since the military coup. However, their daily wage of K4,800 remains unchanged. And that they are struggling to survive amid rising prices.
This interview with Daw Moe Sandar Myint, the chair of Federation of General Workers Myanmar (FGWM) is about the hardships of workers due to higher commodity prices, the reason for unchanged minimum wage and dismissal of workers from job as they demanded labour rights.
TLT: The basic daily wage remains unchanged at K4,800 despite higher commodity prices. What are the hardships of factory workers in this situation?
Daw Moe Sandar Myint: Over the past two years of military coup, prices of various commodities have skyrocketed. Grassroots experienced many difficulties in livelihood. On the other hand, factory workers are being exploited in their works. They have to work overtimes without getting wages. They were forced to work extra time, but they do not get more. Declining employment opportunity in Myanmar has led to millions of joblessness. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a report early this year that 17.6 million of Myanmar population need assistance due to general hardships including higher commodity prices. The commodity prices have risen by five times compared to the previous five years although the minimum wage has not increased during this period.
TLT: The Minimum Wage Law amended in 2008 specifies that the minimum wage shall be reviewed every two years. However, why did the junta regime fail to increase labour wage? What is your view on this?
Daw Moe Sandar Myint: The Minimum Wage Law was enacted in March 2013, and the first daily minimum wage was set on 19 June 2015. Regardless of areas or type of jobs, the minimum wage was fixed at K450 per hours, and K3,600 for 8 hours per day. The law said to change the wage every two years to meet increasing commodity price. The second and last amendment for minimum wage was made on 14 May 2018, fixing at K4,800 per day for 8 working hours. However, the basic wage was not changed for the workers until now. The amendment has not been made for nearly 5 years. Taking advantages from political instability, some employers exploit workers, with giving only K3,000 per day in violation of Minimum Wage Law. Military dictators always focus only on self-interest in successive eras. No dictator worked for the well-being of people. They make troubles to people. The junta regime is arresting employees in their work places for their demand to increase minimum wage due to rising commodity prices. Military dictators do nothing for the good of people and workers. Instead, they have created daily problems for people and workers.
TLT: What should be a reasonable amount of minimum daily wage at present due to increasing price of commodities?
Daw Moe Sandar Myint: The minimum wage has not been increased despite decreasing Myanmar currency rate compared to hard currency. Their income is not enough for daily expenditure. Our federation demanded for the increase in minimum wage along with nearly 7,000 workers in 2020 for getting reasonable wage to meet the daily cost. Our federation made statements at May Day events for this demand. We expect reasonable wage for them.
TLT: In conclusion, employers/factory owners have dismissed factory workers who demanded increasing wage. What are the situations at the work places?
Daw Moe Sandar Myint: Garment factory owners are oppressing their workers in cooperation with the military council after 2021 military coup. Since May and June, garment employees are asking for increase in wage due to higher commodity prices.
Business owners are taking advantages from the military coup. They dismiss innocent workers from job, force to work and put pressure on the workers. Moreover, the military council cracks down workers and unions that advocate for the workers. Recently, at least three worker leaders were arrested in their workplaces for their leading role in complaining violation of labour rights and calling for an increase in minimum labour wage. Some worker leaders were also dismissed from jobs. Recently, at least 15 workers were laid off from jobs as they absconded from the threats of military. The workers were easily arrested at the workplaces. It is a violation of labour rights jointly committed by the business owners and the military.
Our federation absolutely object such violation. So, we protested against the military dictatorship in Yangon just after the coup. We will continue fighting for labour rights and human rights for people by ending the military dictatorship. Thank you.