Burma’s poorly paid garment workers are anticipating a pay hike this year, report Thida Win and Yadana Oo. But this has to be put in perspective: 1,000 Kyat is equivalent to about US$1, so the pay rise is only about $10.
To the delight of underpaid workers in Yangon, some of the local garment factories there are increasing the wages as of January 2011, according to employees in the garment industry.
Although most of the factories are to raise the wages by K10,000, some factories still do not have the same plans. Basic salaries of workers at local garment factories established with foreign investment are very low.
“It is said that our factory is going to raise our salaries by K10,000 (US$10) as of January. This was not officially announced. It is learnt that the arrangements are being made. This is exactly what should be done. Our basic salary is just K9,298 ($10). Overtime allowance is K30 per hour. I worked 84.25 hours of overtime last month and got K8,396. I got production bonus K10,000 per month. So I earned K9,400 last month before deducting K972 for income tax and K283 for social security premium,” said a worker from a Korean garment factory on No. 3 Highway in Mingaladon township.
Working hours in garment factories are from 7.30am to 6.30pm including lunch break of 30 minutes. Although working hours are set thus, the workers have to work overtime, including night shifts in some months, depending on garment orders. Overtime wages vary from K30 per hour to K50 per hour.
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“There are about 3,000 workers of ages between 16 and 35 in our factory, which is established by businessmen from China. We are not paid monthly salaries but daily wages. Workers are grouped into Grade A, Grade B and Grade C. Those in Grade A group earn daily wages of about K650, while Grade B workers earn about K450 a day.
“Those in Grade C group earn only about K300 per day. As work starts at 7.30am, we have to go to work at 6.00am. Although work finishes at 6.20pm, we mostly have to work overtime until 9.00pm. When they have a lot of orders, we have to work all night. We do not have holidays every week. Usually, we do not have day off even on Sundays. At the end of a month of hard work, those in Grade A group earn about K60,000 and those in Grade B group get about K50,000. Grade C workers get from K35,000 to K45,000. Despite the news of pay rise in other factories, we have not heard anything about our wages in our factory,” said a worker from a Chinese garment factory in Pale Myothit in Mingaladon township.
There are many garment factories set up by foreign businessmen in Yangon Region, mostly from China, Korea and Japan, employing hundreds to thousands of local people as low-income earners depending on the size of the factories.
Basic level workers in garment factories set up by foreigners rarely have the opportunities to see the employers and have to work under the supervision of local foremen. There were some incidents in which the workers were exploited financially and treated rudely by these local foremen.
“I work in a Korean garment factory in Shwepaukkan. We get higher salaries than those from other factories. Although we are paid higher, we have to work harder than workers from other factories. They set a standard to finish 50 garments an hour. If we cannot finish the set standard, we are verbally abused. It is said that that we will get a pay rise in January but we are not sure,” said a worker in a Korean garment factory in Shwepaukkan.
“Low paid workers like us do not have a chance to meet with the boss. We have to deal with Myanmar foremen. The problem is that we cannot fully enjoy the benefits allowed by the boss. Once, a local foreman paid us lower than our real wages and forced to work more. Our wages were cut through various ways. Later, the foreman was fired when the boss found out what he was doing” said a garment factory worker in Mingaladon Industrial Zone.
In November 2010, some local garment factories increased wages by K20,000, it was learnt.
Translated and edited by Myint Win Thein and MYA.