By Nan Su Hnin Htwe
“The minimum wage will be between Ks3,200 and Ks4,000 because it must not be lower than the Asean standard and must not exceed it,” said Labour Minister Aye Myint after the meeting of the Union Committee for Minimum Wage on June 24.
A source said that various figures were proposed at the meeting. The lowest figure was Ks2,500. Most of the attendees voted for the Ks3,600 rate.
“There is one more step to go before we officially declare it. Even the agreed-upon amount was the result of intense discussions as it is now greater than the amount set by business owners. We still have to consider whether overtime wage, which were previously double the wage amount, should be set as 1.5 times the minimum wage. The amount we settled upon was the result of efforts to please all parties,” said Permanent Secretary of Labour Myo Aung.
The most affected sector is likely garment factories. In February, workers at garment factories in Shwepyithar Industrial Zone staged protest. Earning less than Ks100,000 per month at present, they demanded an increase of Ks30,000 in line with the higher cost of living. A hike in civil servants’ salaries took effect in April. Civil servants with the lowest pay of Ks75,000 a month will get Ks120,000. Those who receive the highest pay of Ks250,000 will get Ks500,000.
At a workshop hosted by the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry this week, the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association demanded more time.
The minister and deputy ministers for labour, employment and social security, a presidential adviser, worker representatives, employers, international observers and civil society organisations attended the two-day event.
Zar Ni Thway from the Agriculture and Farmers Federation of Myanmar said: “I proposed a fixed minimum wage of Ks4,000 or more. Workers are facing the skyrocketing prices of goods and rents. Ks3,000 for the garment workers is not enough. There will be discontent from some businesses if different rates are set.”
A representative of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggested that the minimum wage should be set with simple, clear-cut methods to harmonise economic and social development and take into account families’ cost of living.
Khaing Khaing New, a factory owner, said: “According to the nature of work, pay roll will differ. That is why it is impossible to offer the same amount. We need time. Fixing a forced minimum on us without negotiation may lead to problems. I am not making a threat but we need time to hold discussions. Our employers will work on this matter in cooperation with the employees.”
A technical adviser for the ILO's Freedom of Association Project in Yangon admitted that the issue could cause tension.
The results from the workshop will be submitted to a parliamentary committee which will release the proposed rate. There will be 60 days for further comments after which it will seek approval from the Union Parliament.
The process has lasted two years with employers threatening to shut down factories if an unreasonable rate is fixed.