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[Myanmar] Construction sites struggle as skilled workers head overseas

Daw Hay Mar, a trader, can only shake her head when talking about the high expenses she incurred in constructing a storage building and workers quarters because of poor workmanship.

She said her nightmare started when she hired a group of construction workers in her neighbourhood for the job.

Daw Hay Mar said the building they erected looked like a patchwork of concrete and steel, so she asked another set of workers to redo the job, doubling her expenses.

“We hired them as we are neighbours, and I thought that since they are working in heavy construction sites they have the basic skills to construct a simple building,” Daw Hay Mar said.

According to industry insiders, the country’s construction industry is suffering a severe shortage of skilled workers, such as engineers, bricklayers, mason, carpenters, as most highly trained workers have sought better-paying jobs abroad.

Skilled workers who are still in the country are working full-time for big construction firms, which have ongoing projects.

Ko Han Si, an electrical worker, has been a daily wage worker for Township Electricity Supply Corporation in Yangon Region for over four years, and is now ready to leave for work abroad despite having to leave behind his wife and one-year-old son.

“Here, we have no holidays. I only earn K4800 (US$3) a day. If I work abroad, I will get a much higher salary and I don’t have to shoulder the cost of daily living expenses so I can send money back to my family,” he said.

Ko Han Si said he will be doing the same job he is doing now as an electrical worker for a construction company where his friend has worked for over five years now. He will be paid US$560 a month, much more than the US$90 he gets at his present job.

Another construction worker, Ko Min Thurein, who works in South Korea, earns about 150,000 won (K213,000) a day. He said he will work there for two years more to save money, although his employment contract has expired.

Ko Min Thurein, from Sittwe Township in Rakhine State, said he went to Seoul under the Employment Permit System (EPS) agreement between Myanmar and South Korea, which provides a five-year contract.

“I decided to continue working here because I have to take care of my family,” he said.

He said that working at high-rise construction sites in South Korea is different from working at similar ones in Myanmar.

Ko Min Thurein said he feels safe working in South Korea because of the facilities and equipment they use on the construction site.

The number of Myanmar nationals who want to work in South Korea is increasing. About 30,000 prospective workers sit for the Korean language proficiency test under the EPS every year.

Most workers going to South Korea prefer to work in the construction and manufacturing industries because of the higher pay.

According to the Myanmar Ministry of Labour, about 25,000 Myanmar workers leave each month for the eight countries with which the government has labour agreements. Thousands more leave to work in countries where the government does not allow citizens to work.

Most Myanmar migrant workers go to Thailand – an estimated 20,000 every month.

U Kyaw Zaw, general secretary of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation, said there is a strong demand for construction workers in Thailand because of the expansion of the country’s tourism sector, which has resulted in the construction of more hotels.

There is also strong demand among garment factories in Thailand, which waive the broker fees of skilled workers they hire, U Kyaw Zaw said.

“Migration is based on money. The value of Myanmar’s currency is lower than Thailand’s, which is why Myanmar workers go to Thailand,” U Kyaw Zaw said.

Local construction firms admit having difficulty matching the facilities, benefits, and salaries offered by foreign companies.

“We have workers who could be skilled labourers and leaders, but they work here just to get experience, then they go to South Korea to work. So we lose them after they acquire skills,” said electrical engineer Daw Phoo Wai Wai Thaw, owner of WAI-Electrical Group Installation and Engineering.

New engineering graduates also work for local companies just to build up their portfolios. After that, they go abroad for the better pay and benefits.

“It is not true that they are going abroad because don’t want to use and share their skills in Myanmar. They leave the country because they need to take care of their families,” Daw Phoo Wai Wai Thaw said.

Contractors admit building projects are being delayed because of the skilled-labour shortage, which forces them to rely on trainee workers.

After the transformation of the education system in Myanmar in 1988, the production of skilled engineers declined, although there were more engineering universities, U Yan Aung, general manager of Asia Builders construction company, said.

He said that more practical training of workers is needed at engineering universities.

“The construction industry would grow again if we could give enough training to general workers,” U Yan Aung said.

U Yan Aung said the local construction industry cannot compete for skilled labourers with the facilities and wages offered by companies abroad.

Efforts by the Myanmar government and non-governmental groups to upgrade workers’ skills have been unable to fill the domestic demand for skilled labour.

At the forefront of the government’s skills programme is the Myanmar National Skills Standards Authority (NSSA) founded in 2007, which has programmes to upgrade skills in 23 industries.

But only about 8000 workers have been tested and issued skilled labour certificates by the NSSA so far, 2000 of them in the garment sector.

According to a recent survey of the country’s workforce, 22 million people are eligible to work, Labour Minister U Thein Swe said.

NSSA officials and contractors said that many of Myanmar’s skilled workers have missed job opportunities in construction and factories because they failed to get skilled labour certificates from the NSSA.

U Ko Ko Naing, an adviser to the German Agency for International Development Cooperation, which provides support to the NSSA, said that while there are many skilled workers available, foreign companies would not hire them because they do not have NSSA certificates.

“Also, some of our workers migrate to other countries when they have acquired skills,” he said.

Although there are many free or paid vocational training courses in the country, workers have difficulty attending them because they have to work long hours to survive.

Unless the government and private sector find ways to address the skilled labour shortage, the country’s economy may remain in the doldrums and economic development will remain a pipe dream.

Written by: Zaw Zaw Htwe

Report decries lack of union representatives

A report by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) said there are no independent union representatives present at the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) to protect the rights and conditions of workers.

A Ministry of Labour official called the findings on union representation a “small negative point”, while a union group coordinator said the zone “should be special for all”.

The SSEZ was established in 2008 as a joint venture between Chinese and Cambodian enterprises. The project is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road Initiative” for Cambodia.

The SEZ is built on an 11.13sq km site and employs around 20,000 workers. More than 90 companies are in operation in the zone, with around 20 at the start of operations, while 10 had ceased activity, the CCIM report said.

The SSEZ website says that in its second phase, it is aiming for some 300 enterprises employing between 80,000 to 100,000 workers.

The CCIM’s 14-page report released on Tuesday used interviews with more than 20 people from 10 factories in the SSEZ. Some workers interviewed said their salary was deducted by between $20 and $30 if they were absent from work without permission or a doctor’s certificate.

Some claimed they were made to work overtime involuntarily or not in their stated role. They also said they were employed on short-term contracts which offered them weak job protection. The report also claimed there were no independent union representatives present in the SSEZ.

An Rama, a coordinator for the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) for Preah Sihanouk province, said the report had found important problems that needed to be addressed.

“I think the problems found in the report are big and important. I think the special economic zone should be special for all. We have seen it is special for investors, but we see it is not special for the workers there,” he said.

But Pol Chan Dara, an official at the Labour Department, said what was reported were “small negative points”.

Praising the government’s efforts in improving working conditions and benefits, Chan Dara said the environment for workers had been improved and poverty reduced.

“My house is there. If there is any problem, we will solve it immediately. There is no special economic zone that violates human rights. I guarantee that there are no violations at all. But for the small things raised, we cannot deny it happens,” he said at the event launching the report.

‘Who is independent?’

Chan Dara said workers’ unions were freely allowed to be formed under the law, but he criticised the report when defining “independent unions”.

“I don’t know who is independent. Independence is not when you hit out and go against the government. This does not mean you are independent. Independence is not when you take foreign money for your role. Independence is from your heart and serving your profession,” he said.

Chan Dara said that a company within the SSEZ was fined last year, and in 2018 three companies were fined for breaking laws related to working conditions and regulations. He said there were no disputes with workers this year and that no union leaders had been fired.

He denied workers’ salaries were deducted by $20 to $30 for absence. He said the deduction was $6:50 for each day off work.

Chan Dara said if workers had any problems, they should approach the government committee established at the SSEZ.

“At the SSEZ, we have a committee with representatives from the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Commerce, CamControl, customs and local authorities. All complaints can be put in a mailbox,” he said.

The CCU’s Rama requested that the government should allow representatives from workers’ unions to be a part of the SSEZ’s committee.

“We request to allow union representatives in that special economic zone. That would be good. As raised in this report, workers’ rights are protected by law, but the implementation is not widely practised because workers are afraid,” he said.

Written by Niem Chheng
Source: Phnom Penh Post

Vietnam sends over 102,000 workers abroad in nine months

The number of Vietnamese people sent to work overseas amounted up to 102,100 between January and September, representing 92.6 percent of the yearly target.

Taiwan received the largest volume of Vietnamese workers during the reviewed period, at over 47,000, up 1.2 percent year on year.

A total of 930 Vietnamese workers were dispatched to Southeast Asia, while over 2,200 others went to Middle East countries. Both markets saw year-on-year decreases of 16 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Of 26 markets receiving Vietnamese workers in the first nine months of 2018, only five had the scale of 1,000 workers and above. They were Taiwan, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Rumania, and Saudi Arabia.

In 2017, Vietnam sent more than 134,000 workers overseas, surpassing the yearly target by 24%.

Source: Vietnam Net

[Cambodian] Migrant worker numbers rise

There were about 1.8 million documented and undocumented migrant workers working overseas in the first six months of this year, an increase of nearly 20,000 when compared to the same period last year, according to the National Committee for Counter Trafficking.

The NCCT noted in a report issued last week that 1,836,666 workers were working abroad during the first six months of the year, an increase of 19,853 when compared to the same period last year.

It said that 1,039,797 were documented workers, while 796,869 lacked legal documents. The migrants were working in Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

It noted that recruitment agencies tasked with sending workers abroad by the Labour Ministry sent 28,992 workers abroad during the time frame, including 964 to Japan, 138 to Singapore, 41 to Hong Kong, three to Saudi Arabia, 3,328 to South Korea and 25,518 to Thailand.

However, Chou Bun Eng, vice chair of the NCCT, said many migrant workers still risk working illegally in Thailand.Ms Bun Eng said those workers are vulnerable and face labour exploitation, detention and deportation.

She said many undocumented workers were cheated by brokers who demanded money in exchange for high-paying jobs and an illegal path into Thailand.

“The government urges employment agencies to follow our policy,” Ms Bun Eng said. “The government continues to examine workers who were deported by explaining to them that migrating illegally is risky.”

Sin Nam Yong, deputy director of the coordination committee for worker reception from Thailand via Poipet, said about 100 Cambodian workers were deported by Thai authorities daily in the past.

However, since the government began working with Thai authorities to provide legality to migrant workers, the number has dwindled.

“Since the government provided legality to migrant workers, there are ten to 20 workers who are deported daily by Thai authorities,” Ms Nam Yong said. “Before, there were at least 100 workers deported per day.”

In the first six months of the year, the Foreign Ministry said 247 workers were repatriated from Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

Seoung Sen Karona, a monitor with rights group Adhoc, said workers go abroad after failing to find decent work at home.

“If working here is good enough for them, they might not migrate to work abroad, away from their homes, families and relatives,” Mr Sen Karona said, noting that only a handful of migrant workers are lucky to be employed with good conditions.

“Some migrant workers are lucky to work abroad with no problems, but some workers still face labour exploitation,” he added. “Adhoc still gets complaints from victims abroad.”

Source: Khmer Times

Written by Sen David


[Myanmar] Govt calls for skills testing to improve labour force

The Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population is urging garment factories in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone to establish assessment centres so that garment workers can earn skills certificates from the National Skills Standards Authority.

Ministry officials made the request at a workshop on boosting labour skills at factories in the industrial zone on Saturday.

 “We aim for all factory workers to have high skills despite not completing their formal educations. But, their skills need to be assessed before certificates can be issued,” said U Win Shein, president of the authority.

By assessing their skills, the quality of factory products and brands will improve, U Win Shein, who is also general secretary of the authority, said.

There are an estimated 500,000 workers employed in the country’s garment industry, but only 1831 have skills certificates from the authority.

Presently, there are only 11 skills assessment centres in Myanmar, run by the government, companies or NGOs.

U Win Shein urged all garment factory owners to establish assessment centres that can process at least 50 workers.

He said the ministry will provide technical support for factories to establish the assessment centres and provide funds to help test workers. The assessments will cost an estimated K19,000 per worker.

U Khin Maung Aye of Latt War Garment Factory, one of the few owners who have established an assessment centre for his workers, urged all factories to cooperate with the project for the good of the industry.

He said the country’s 500,000 garment factory workers could soon have skills certificates if factory owners work with the government.

Thousands of people working in the country’s factories have no skills or training certificates, the ministry said, adding that more skilled workers will be needed as foreign investment enters the country.

An official of the National Skills Standards Authority said Myanmar construction workers missed out on jobs in the building of Myanmar Plaza because they had no skills certificates.

The authority has issued skills certificates for 8415 workers in 22 trades since it was established in 2007.

Written by Zaw Zaw Htwe
Source: Myanmar Times
Published on 16 October 2018

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