Ensuring safe migration through the provision of paralegal assistance and knowledge of decent working conditionsPublished: Jan 25, 2023 Reading time: 6 minutes
Migration is on the rise in Myanmar as more and more people from rural communities are moving to cities in hope of finding better job opportunities and improved living conditions. Shwe Pyi Thar Township is a peri-urban area in the north-western part of Yangon which is a particularly popular destination among migrants seeking jobs in the industrial sector, especially in garment factories.
With financial support from the Livelihoods and Food Security Fund (LIFT), the Aye Chan Thaw Ein Project aims to help migrant workers by strengthening their overall resilience, as well as improving knowledge about labour rights and safe migration, including access to the justice system and what constitutes decent working conditions. People in Need, together with Helvetas Myanmar and local paralegal organisations, has been working to provide vital legal aid and respond to any complaints of labour law violations and/or labour exploitation as they relate to migrant workers.
Promoting safe migration and the labour rights for migrant labour
Through the Aye Chan Thaw Ein (ACTE) Project, consortium partners have been raising awareness about labour laws among migrants, as well as helping them settle labour dispute cases. In addition, the project is focused on informing factory owners and managers about the international industrial standards necessary to increase their profits and secure access to new markets.
From February 2020 to December 2022, a total of 673 labour cases were supported by the ACTE Project. More than 200,000 labourers (77 % of them female workers) have benefited from paralegal aid, 33 cases (5%) are still currently under negotiation and 640 cases (95%) cases were solve it out successfully and closed. In total, 91% of labourers were satisfied with the result of the dispute settlement, while 5% were not satisfied and 4% simply had no comments. Out of 248 cases, 10,988 labours have been paid over 700,000,000 kyats (over € 305,000) in compensation from their respective industries.
Ko Maung Maung*, a project officer of the paralegal organization, shared the importance of strengthening the Workplace Coordination Committee (WCC) in the factory - “If there is a case of dispute between labourers and managers or factory owners, factory-based labour union members can negotiate using the WCC in the workplace. This is why we work on strengthening the negotiation skills of the WCC and help set up labour unions in order to help and protect the labour rights of the workers, as well as promote safer working conditions. During instances of financial and political instability, labourers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because of the lack of job opportunities, the high price of consumer goods and a lower minimum wage. However, they do not have alternative choices when it comes to finding jobs.”
He adds, “we provide information about labour rights and details about safe migration to migrant workers so that they have a better understanding of their rights. Together with Helvetas Myanmar, we also provide Financial Literacy Training for better financial planning and management. In total, we’ve reached 350 individual workers in the Shwe Pyi Thar Township under the ACTE Project. We are also strengthened to improve the decent working condition between labourers and factory owners, as well.”
In addition, the ACTE Project has delivered safe migration and labour rights awareness sessions to more than 1,900 migrant workers and financial literacy training to 670 labour migrants. Ma San San* shares what she’s learned, “When I moved to Yangon in 2020, I had zero knowledge of labour rights and laws. Most of us were in the cities for the first time and didn’t know anything about safe migration practices, we just wanted to get a job as quickly as possible.”
She adds, “One of my friends told me about the safe migration training conducted by the ACTE Project, I wanted to join it. After I joined the safe migration and labour rights training and other skills development trainings, I gained more knowledge, especially about financial management. Now I know to spend 40% of my earning on accommodation and daily meals, 30% to support my family and 30% for saving as investment for the future.”
Moreover, the project has been providing safe migration and labour rights’ Training of Trainers (TOT) sessions to labour unions members. Thanks to these ToT trainings, 47 labour unions members have been able to get pedagogical skills training and more than 50% of these workers have been female labourers. In particular, women migrant workers gained increased capabilities about knowledge sharing and skills to support other migrant workers in terms of dealing with labour issues, guiding in referrals and documenting cases appropriately.
“I do not want to just sit quietly if I see cases of exploitation or disputes between labourers and factory in our working environment,” says Ko Nyi Nyi*, one of the members of the labour unions. He goes on to share his enthusiasms about helping his fellow colleagues, “as a member of the labour union, I want to learn more about labour laws and rights so we can protect ourselves. After I joined the awareness session provided by ACTE, I gained more knowledge about how to solve cases of labour exploitations. However, an issue is that when I help solve disputes, factory might notice and view us as their enemies or defenders or people who are simply adding fuel the fire of disputes in the factory. That is why, sometimes they want to crush us. In reality, we only want decent working conditions and no more broken labour laws or exploitation.”
Ko Sithu Aung*, the director of a local partner organization says, “under the Aye Chan Thwe Ein Project, we have been able to provide paralegal assistances and labour rights training to migrant workers who are interested to learning about labour laws and their rights. Even during COVID-19, we’ve been able to continue our paralegal services and various trainings, including our financial literacy trainings, online. With the help of our partners, we can clearly see the achievements of the project.”
Ma Nyein Nyein Ei, the Skills and Migration Development Manager of the ACTE Project at Helvetas Myanmar says, “In Myanmar, labour rights violations have been increasing due to political constraints. This has led to a decrease in service providers, which is detrimental for both labourers and employers. It is essential that we take preventive measures rather than pay compensation in order to solve this problem peacefully and cost effectively. We are taking proactive steps, such as improving labour laws, enforcing regulations on working hours and wages, providing better working conditions for employees etc.,”
She adds, “we can ensure that the rights of workers are respected while also maintaining social cohesion between employers and employees alike. Taking these steps will not only benefit both parties but also create a more prosperous economy overall by allowing businesses to thrive without fear of exploitation or abuse from either side. Peaceful negotiations should be encouraged to ensure workers' rights are respected while allowing businesses to continue operating with minimal disruption or expense. It's important for all stakeholders involved in this issue - government, employers, and employees alike - to collaborate on finding solutions that respect everyone's needs while protecting the well-being of those affected by labour law violations in Myanmar.”
*The names of certain individuals have been changed for their protection.