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Mandalay labor union campaigns for higher wages following electricity bill hike

On the first of July, a labor union – Myanmar Industries, Crafts and Services (MICS) Trade Union Federation – took to the streets for increased wages. The campaign, titled “Raise Wages not Electricity Prices”, was demonstrated in Pyi Kyi Than Kyun district, 60th street, and Kyan Sitt Tar streets of Mandalay.

Low-wage primary and secondary sector laborers make up the primary bulk of the union.

Thet Hnin Aung, the secretary of this union commented that “At a time where wages and minimum wages are so low, the government raises electricity prices almost threefold. For us workers in the industrial and manufacturing sectors, this is especially difficult.

While prices for almost all other goods skyrocket, our wages remain static. Necessities and land prices have increased beyond our reach. My own rental apartment, for example, used to be 45,000 to 50,000 kyats but now it has increased to 70,000 to 75,000 kyats. In contrast, our average salaries are between one and a half to two lakhs. And those who earn around two lakhs have to work overtime. Just our rent accounts for around one third of our salaries. We all have already very low disposable incomes.”

He continued, “Furthermore, the raise was not gradual. It was a shock. Instead of raising the energy prices continually or gradually so people could adjust, they increased the rates two to three times overnight.

One of the reasons that energy prices were increased was because Myanmar’s energy prices were lowest in ASEAN. Yet, Myanmar’s average wages (GDP per capita) does not come close to the ASEAN average. But, now the electricity prices are now comparable to the prices of other ASEAN countries. This is a completely unfair and misguided comparison.”

Thet Hnin Aung points out, “When the previous government increased prices, the whole country stood up in protest—from Yangon to Mandalay. Now even when the current government raises prices almost three times the original, people are not showing strong opposition. We don’t want to be on the streets either, but we have to stand because nobody else is going to. Through the media and interviews like this, we hope to send our message and situation to the ministries. If electricity bills are to increase, wages should be increased as well. It is the government’s responsibility to implement policies to increase labor wages and give us a better standard of living.”

“It is becoming more difficult to support my family. Those who depend on me are affected most. Now that prices of groceries and other basic necessities have increased, this electricity cost hike is the last blow. I now have to work two jobs to be able to support my family,” stated Su Su Naing, a worker at a shoe factory in Hlaing Thar Yar Industrial Zone.

Source: ELEVEN Media Group

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