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Myanmar Re-Establishes National Minimum Wage Committee

While Myanmar continues to grapple with labor issues, government officials are bringing back an initiative to help factory workers earn better wages.

This month, Myanmar re-established a national minimum wage committee of financial experts, ministries and employer group representatives to improve wages in the nation, The Myanmar Times reported. According to the committee, the new minimum wage will be better than the previous one, though it will take a tiered approaching, making it more difficult to outline and implement.

“The new wages will be more specific. The previous minimum wage was the same for all levels,” committee member and economic expert U Khin Maung Nyo said on Thursday. “So we will need a bit more time before we can make the announcements.

In September, Myanmar’s government set K3600 ($2.61) as the minimum daily wage, which was less than the K5600 ($4.07) rate worker groups desired at the time. Over the past two years, the minimum wage dilemma has caused many businesses, including factories, to shut down because employers couldn’t afford to pay workers the minimum wage rate. Furthermore, many labor disputes occurred, since employers cut down workers’ allowances after the K3600 ($2.61) minimum wage was implemented.

“We want workers to earn reasonable wages without burdening employees. We are trying to take care of all parties,” U Khin Maung Nyo said. “Bosses also have the right to maintain their companies’ competitiveness in the international market.”

Issues have emerged since the minimum wage was instituted, including factory owner,s who set K3600 ($2.61) as the maximum wage, and those that have tried to pay new workers less, reserving the minimum amount for more experienced employees. For factory workers who are receiving the minimum wage, they’re still not able to cover their living expenses.

“Allowances have been cut by some employers since the minimum wage was implemented. So, workers are still not getting enough salary,” Yangon regional chair of the Confederation of Trade Union Myanmar Ma Win Theingi Soe said. “At the same time, housing and rents are getting more expensive.”

Labor activists are urging the committee to monitor commodity prices to avoid price hikes, which could occur after the minimum wage is increased. Other organizations are also calling for collaboration with the committee, to work together on the nation’s current labor issues.

Myanmar has also been criticized by many global entities, including the Human Rights Watch, for neglecting to protect civilians. In its 2017 World Report, the Human Rights Watch called out the nation for failing to check its military for potential abuse against ethnic minorities. MGMA data says the country’s CMP garment industry employs over 400,000 people in 389 factories, including those at risk for labor exploitation. Despite minimum wage reform efforts, it will take time to improve workers’ salaries in Myanmar.

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