More than 2,000 workers demonstrated in Yangon’s Hlaingthaya Township on Sunday to demand an increase in the minimum daily wage of K3,600 (US$2.68) to K5,600 ($4) and the abolition of the Arbitration Council, which is meant to mediate conflicts between employers and workers.
The workers cited rising inflation and living costs as the basis for their demand for a higher minimum wage. According to one labor activist interviewed by the Myanmar Times, an 8-foot-by-8-foot bedroom in Hlaingthaya Township can cost up to K50,000 per month, which means a worker would need to work between 11 and 14 days a month just to cover the rent. Little is left over at the end of the month for food, healthcare or other basic needs.
The workers also demanded the abolition of the Yangon Regional Arbitration Council or greater participation in its elections. The council has often been criticized be workers and activists for taking the side of employers too often.
The council’s effectiveness has also been questioned because, according to the chairperson of the Myanmar Labour Union, employers rarely follow its decisions when they favor employees. The demonstrators called for such employers to be jailed.
They also demanded greater protection for Myanmar workers abroad.
Myanmar set its first minimum daily wage at K3,600 in September 2015. Opponents of the move, including several South Korean and Chinese factory owners, argued that a minimum wage would deter investment in Myanmar.
The Ethical Trading Initiative, which includes Gap, H&M and Debenhams Retail, backed the minimum wage.