U Kyaw Htwe, Chairman of Amyotha Hluttaw Immigration and Local and Overseas Labour Affairs Committee
By Shin Min; Photo: Kay Kay
Initially formed as the Local and Overseas Labour Affairs Committee, the Amyotha Hluttaw committee was reformed with the addition of ‘Immigration’ after Notification No. (8/2019) from the Amyotha Hluttaw on 1 March, 2019.
The committee is formed with 14 members including the chairperson and includes a representative from each state and region. U Kyaw Htwe is the chairman of the committee and Amyotha Hluttaw MP for Yangon Region constituency 8. The following is an interview with the committee chairman.
Q: Could you first explain the duties of the committee?
A: The committee is tasked with assisting citizenship verification process in line with the 1982 Citizenship Law. We coordinate to make issuing NRCs for citizens born from two ethnic parents easier. We also assist with uncovering illegal immigrants and following legal procedures in response.
We assist in administering expatriates working and living in our country and also with evaluating domestic and foreign population data to assist designating national population policies.
The committee also assists in facilitating good trilateral communication between the government, employers and employees, ensuring a stable and peaceful working environment and the full rights entitled in labour laws.
Our other duties include ensuring workplace safety, reducing accidents in the workplace, and in international and regional labour affairs. Then there’s social security insurance, social protection and healthcare under the social security project implementation, ensuring the rights of migrant workers in the country they are working in, and smooth remittance of wages back to their homes. We help with all these aspects.
We also work with relevant ministry departments to assist people who have gone to work overseas through legal channels if their employment agency is not upholding the terms of the contract binding them.
In addition, we reevaluate labour laws that are no longer relevant and work to amend them according to International Labour Organization standards. Sometimes employers and employees enter a disagreement and cannot resolve their issues. So, they bring the matter to us and, with permission from the Amyotha Hluttaw Speaker, we attempt to negotiate for solutions between them.
Q: What rights or authority does your committee possess to carry out these duties?
A: We are entrusted with seven areas of authority legally. Firstly, we can invite officials from domestic and foreign labour organizations, employer groups or other accountable officials for questioning or discussion.
Our committee can form smaller groups or team up with other individuals to conduct observation activities. We need to submit the agenda to the Amyotha Hluttaw office first.
We also have the right to question relevant ministries relating to monitoring labour unions and their access to labour rights. Our committee’s findings can be used by the Union government or state/regional governments in reporting to the Hluttaw Speaker.
Our committee can meet freely with local and overseas labour groups and ask on the requirements and challenges workers are facing. We can then provide suggestions accordance with the law.
If local or overseas labour groups contact our committee then we can hold meetings with them after receiving permission from the Hluttaw Speaker. We have to file a report concerning these meetings to the Speaker afterwards.
Q: Can you tell us immigration or labour law matters you are currently undertaking.
A: We currently don’t have any legal amendment processes concerning immigration. We are evaluating the ministry’s handling of NRC issuance, immigration, and household census matters, in addition to related laws, bylaws and directives.
Furthermore, we are evaluating the situation for drafting a law concerning expatriates working in the country. We have submitted a bill to amend the 2013 Minimum Wage Law to the Speaker and we can table it in future Hluttaw meetings if it is approved.
We are also working on a household helper bill to submit to the Hluttaw. We are the stage where we have discussed it thoroughly within the committee and are meeting with relevant ministry departments to negotiate on existing laws. We will also discuss this matter with civil society organizations and representatives of employers and employees.
The other matter is that of migrant workers. After we submit the household helper bill to the Hluttaw, the committee will work on amending the 1999 Law Relating to Overseas Employment.
Q: We hear that your committee is working to draft a new version of the foreign worker law. What’s the status of that so far?
A: We would first need a comprehensive list of all foreign workers in Myanmar. They will need to register legally and we must give them legal protection as well. We must also protect the job security of our own citizens too.
We must also consider a number of other things such as whether we receive taxes from foreign workers in our countries, how that revenue can be used to develop the nation, how their labour benefits the nation, how much of our money streams out of the nation, whether the type of work they are allowed to pursue should be restricted, and other matters.
Q: How will the household helper law assist our citizens going to work as helpers abroad?
A: Currently, a lot of helpers go through illegal channels to work abroad. That is why they don’t receive as much help as they need. While we can’t send domestic helpers through legal means yet, even underage children are being sent as helpers illegally.
Meanwhile, domestic helpers are being mistreated in the local context as well. These incidents are being handled through the human rights perspective instead. We want to classify domestic helpers in the same category as other working professions and enable them their rights, put age restrictions, and provide them with the same labour rights as other workers. We have plans to form committees from the family level to the state/regional levels.
Q: Can you explain the role of overseas employment agencies connected to this?
A: Our committee hasn’t been able to effectively handle this from a legal perspective. We are still at the monitoring stage. There is an association for overseas employment services and there are licensed companies in it. Relevant ministries have the duty to ensure all relevant laws are followed when sending domestic workers abroad.
For example, there is a ministry imposed rate for commission fees in sending workers abroad but people are charging above the imposed rate. Then when our people arrive abroad for work they may find that they are not in the same place or same job they were promised. They may be denied their wages or forced to work overtime. Even workers who have gone through MoU channels suffering from this. We need better management.
When we receive complaints of this nature then we contact the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, relevant state/regional government, anti-trafficking of persons group and Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation.
But there are many names under which they work and if one company closes they may continue their activities under a different name. That is why people should not be satisfied with just receiving compensation. I want to advise people to take legal action and ensure nothing like this befalls on others to come.
Q: Is there anything else you want to tell the readers?
A: We are working hard towards a zero payment system for out own citizens seeking employment services in the following year. Some of the factories in Thailand and Malaysia are operating on that system for our citizens working there. It’s not that the system isn’t allowed to run, it’s that some agencies which can do it are extorting payment from workers to fuel their greed.
And that’s not all, the factories from the other side also ask for payment. This tarnishes nation’s image and belittles the agencies that are actually working honestly.
I urge everyone to contact our committee if they face any difficulties in working abroad or from local agencies. We are ready to assist in any form.(Translated by Pen Dali)