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Migrant workers from Burma in China

Individual Documents

Title: Forgotten Workforce: Experiences of women migrants from Burma in Ruili, China (Burmese)
Date of publication: February 2012
Description/subject: Executive Summary: "Burma’s continuing political repression and economic deterioration, coupled with China’s rapid growth, have caused a new phenomenon over the past few years: large-scale northward migration from Burma to China. The Yunnanese border town of Ruili (called Shweli in Burmese) has seen an estimated tenfold increase in the number of migrants from Burma since 2006, with numbers now exceeding 100,000. Formerly mainly employed in the jade, transport and sex industries, migrants are now working in a range of sectors, including domestic work, restaurants and hotels, sales, construction and manufacturing industries. Migrants are arriving from all parts of central and eastern Burma, particularly from the central dry zone, where continuing drought has deprived farmers of their traditional livelihoods. In Sagaing and Magwe, whole villages are draining of young people coming to find work in China. A large proportion of the migrants are women. During 2010 the Burmese Women’s Union (BWU) conducted in-depth interviews with 32 of these women from various work sectors. Most were from Burma’s central divisions. About half were high school graduates, and some had even graduated from university, but none had been able to find jobs inside Burma. The migrant women interviewed by BWU in Ruili revealed persistent patterns of work exploitation, occupational health and safety hazards and mistreatment by employers throughout different work sectors. A particularly dangerous kind of work being carried out by migrant women in Ruili is processing of petrified wood, imported from Mandalay Division and sold as highly valued home ornaments throughout China. In hundreds of small workshops, women are paid a pittance to sit for long hours sanding and polishing wood, using hazardous electric equipment and chemical solvents, without protective clothing or health insurance. On top of general exploitative work conditions, women also face gender discrimination, receiving lower pay than men in most sectors, no maternity leave and benefits, and suffering sexual harassment from employers. Health and safety risks are particularly high for the several hundred Burmese women working in the sex industry in Ruili and Jiegao, who are often forced to have unprotected sex, and face violence from clients, especially those who are drug users There are no existing mechanisms for foreign migrant workers to seek redress for cases of exploitation and infringement of their rights. They also forbidden from organising any workers’ committees or unions. This has occasionally caused workers’ pent-up resentment to erupt into violence against employers. There are no signs that the migration from Burma will ease in the foreseeable future. Burma’s November 2010 elections were neither free nor fair, and power remains constitutionally firmly in the hands of the military, which continues to receive the lion’s share of the national budget, while health and education needs remain critically underfunded. During 2011 the Burma Army has launched fierce new offensives against ethnic resistance groups seeking to protect their communities and environment from damaging resource exploitation. The military mismanagement at the root of Burma’s economic woes thus looks sets to continue, together with the outflow of migration to neighbouring countries, including China. Mechanisms to protect the rights of foreign migrant workers and prevent further injustices, particularly against women in China are thus urgently needed."
Language: Burmese
Source/publisher: Burmese Women's Union (BWU)
Format/size: pdf (1.8MB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.burmesewomensunion.org
Date of entry/update: 24 February 2012


Title: Forgotten Workforce: Experiences of women migrants from Burma in Ruili, China (English)
Date of publication: February 2012
Description/subject: Executive Summary: "Burma’s continuing political repression and economic deterioration, coupled with China’s rapid growth, have caused a new phenomenon over the past few years: large-scale northward migration from Burma to China. The Yunnanese border town of Ruili (called Shweli in Burmese) has seen an estimated tenfold increase in the number of migrants from Burma since 2006, with numbers now exceeding 100,000. Formerly mainly employed in the jade, transport and sex industries, migrants are now working in a range of sectors, including domestic work, restaurants and hotels, sales, construction and manufacturing industries. Migrants are arriving from all parts of central and eastern Burma, particularly from the central dry zone, where continuing drought has deprived farmers of their traditional livelihoods. In Sagaing and Magwe, whole villages are draining of young people coming to find work in China. A large proportion of the migrants are women. During 2010 the Burmese Women’s Union (BWU) conducted in-depth interviews with 32 of these women from various work sectors. Most were from Burma’s central divisions. About half were high school graduates, and some had even graduated from university, but none had been able to find jobs inside Burma. The migrant women interviewed by BWU in Ruili revealed persistent patterns of work exploitation, occupational health and safety hazards and mistreatment by employers throughout different work sectors. A particularly dangerous kind of work being carried out by migrant women in Ruili is processing of petrified wood, imported from Mandalay Division and sold as highly valued home ornaments throughout China. In hundreds of small workshops, women are paid a pittance to sit for long hours sanding and polishing wood, using hazardous electric equipment and chemical solvents, without protective clothing or health insurance. On top of general exploitative work conditions, women also face gender discrimination, receiving lower pay than men in most sectors, no maternity leave and benefits, and suffering sexual harassment from employers. Health and safety risks are particularly high for the several hundred Burmese women working in the sex industry in Ruili and Jiegao, who are often forced to have unprotected sex, and face violence from clients, especially those who are drug users There are no existing mechanisms for foreign migrant workers to seek redress for cases of exploitation and infringement of their rights. They also forbidden from organising any workers’ committees or unions. This has occasionally caused workers’ pent-up resentment to erupt into violence against employers. There are no signs that the migration from Burma will ease in the foreseeable future. Burma’s November 2010 elections were neither free nor fair, and power remains constitutionally firmly in the hands of the military, which continues to receive the lion’s share of the national budget, while health and education needs remain critically underfunded. During 2011 the Burma Army has launched fierce new offensives against ethnic resistance groups seeking to protect their communities and environment from damaging resource exploitation. The military mismanagement at the root of Burma’s economic woes thus looks sets to continue, together with the outflow of migration to neighbouring countries, including China. Mechanisms to protect the rights of foreign migrant workers and prevent further injustices, particularly against women in China are thus urgently needed.
Language: English and Burmese
Source/publisher: Burmese Women's Union (BWU)
Format/size: pdf (764K-English; 2.95-Burmese)
Alternate URLs: http://womenofburma.org/Report/Forgotten-workforce-Bur.pdf
Date of entry/update: 24 February 2012