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Money Over Risk for Many Burmese

Commercial property developers in Rangoon, Myanmar, are finding it increasingly difficult to get skilled laborers due to a majority of the available work force leaving for higher wages in places like Thailand and Malaysia. In addition, it appears that approximately 2 million migrant workers are willing to risk abuse and cheating in the hopes of earning a higher wage. Prominent human rights activist Andy Hall told The Irrawaddy magazine that, “As long as workers [abroad] don’t fall into situations of severe debt bondage or trafficking, and even if they had bad employers, they can still usually save and send home more money than they ever could from working in [Burma]. The same is the case for skilled workers. Burma is not offering enough incentives.”

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The Hilton Group, which has been working on a 300-room asset in the Centrepoint Complex in Rangoon, has found it particularly difficult and has had to delay a March opening until the end of this year. An official said that even by the end of the year it will only be a partial opening. In the hotel-strapped city of Rangoon, this is not a welcomed scenario. The city is in dire need of hotel accommodations because of recent tourism and business traveller demand, and things will only spike upwards in the near future as tourists and businessmen grow more and more interested in visiting this newly opened gem in Asia. Workers, both skilled and unskilled, apparently feel the rewards of being a migrant worker far outweigh the risks in places like Thailand, even though some Thai employers make them work long hours without breaks, pay wages below the Thai minimum for migrant workers, and confiscate IDs to prevent the workers from skipping out. Most, if not all, of the migrant workers in Thailand are there illegally, which complicates matters even more, especially for the workers. It’s a problem that doesn’t appear to have a near-term solution. As long as wages in Rangoon are comparatively lower than around the region, the best a developer can do there is to maybe offer better and more ethical working conditions. But would this attract some workers back to Myanmar? Or does money simply trump all? For more on this story, click here to head over to The Irrawaddy.