With jobs scarce in Yangon, Myanmar construction workers go to Rakhine

The former site of violent ethnic clashes is relatively stable compared to other parts of the country.
2022.01.28
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With jobs scarce in Yangon, Myanmar construction workers go to Rakhine A laborer works at a construction site in Sittwe, capital of Myanmar's Rakhine state, Jan. 2, 2022.
RFA

Construction workers in Myanmar’s commercial center Yangon are moving in large numbers to the country’s western Rakhine state as jobs dry up at home due to political instability following last year’s military coup, sources say.

Formerly torn by violent ethnic clashes that saw thousands of the state’s Rohingya ethnic minority expelled to Bangladesh, Rakhine is now relatively peaceful compared to other parts of the country, according to workers who have left Yangon.

“There used to be good job opportunities in Yangon, but now the political situation is not so good, and jobs are scarce,” said Myo Htike, a former resident of the city’s South Dagon township who has been working in the Rakhine capital Sittwe for the last two months.

Chances for work in Yangon were already uncertain during the second half of 2019, Myo Htike said. “But later on, when the coup took place, the situation became even worse. When there is no work, there are many difficulties, so I had to leave Yangon and come here, where there are plenty of opportunities,” he said.

Nay Lin Aung, from Thanlyin township in the Yangon region, said he decided to come to Rakhine because construction work in Yangon had come to a stop.

“In the past, I had full-time work for an entire month. But recently we had no jobs for that same period of time, and then I could work for only five out of about 10 days,” he said. “Most construction projects have closed down, and even if someone wants to have a building put up, the companies are closed, and there’s no work for us.

“I have friends in Rakhine state, and I’ve worked with them four or five times before. So that’s why I came here,” he said.

Myo Htike and Nay Lin Aung are both employed now at a construction site in Sittwe, working together at a daily wage of 15,000 kyats ($8.44), they said. Many more workers from other parts of Myanmar would also like to come to Rakhine to find jobs, they said.

An attractive option

Rakhine is now an attractive option for workers fleeing political unrest and job shortages in other parts of the country, agreed Tun Hla Kyaw, secretary of the Rakhine State Builder’s Association.

“They lost their jobs in other places because of the political situation there. They did not come here previously because we had a war going on, and there was little new construction happening. But now there is political instability and fighting in the rest of the country, so they came here to work in a more peaceful place.”

Myo Htike said he hopes that peace will soon return to Myanmar so he can rejoin his family in Yangon.

“If politics are stable and things are peaceful, any worker can find a job, and only those people who don’t want to work will have problems,” he said. “But now, as there is no stability, people have to leave their families and go to work in different places.

“It would be best if the country was at peace,” he said.

Myanmar’s military on Feb. 1, 2021, overthrew the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, saying voter fraud had led to the party’s landslide victory in the country’s November 2020 election.

The junta has yet to provide evidence for its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide protests calling for a return to civilian rule, killing at least 1,499 people according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP-Burma).

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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