The businessman behind a groundbreaking plan to introduce workers from Myanmar to Hong Kong's scandal-hit domestic helper sector says the country's government is being "vigilant" about protecting their rights.
As controversy continues over the treatment of domestic helpers in the SAR, Oake Khaung, the founder of Yangon recruitment company Gold Mine Manpower, said the official paperwork for the first group of 19 workers - who are due to arrive next week - had still not been completed, signalling that Myanmar's Ministry of Labour wanted to ensure their rights would be protected.
In an interview with the Sunday Morning Post yesterday Khaung said the fact that the workers had not been issued with the "Smart" identity cards they needed to allow them to work overseas was evidence that the labour ministry was being "vigilant" about their rights.
Migrant workers from Myanmar - a country still opening up after decades of military dictatorship - were considered to be among the most vulnerable in the region, according to Andy Hall, a researcher on migrant workers in Southeast Asia.
They were "uneducated and desperate, and trapped in an environment where there is a high level of corruption and low level of regulation", said Hall, adding that "the capacity of the government to manage [the migration of its workers] is very low".
Khaung, who is partnering a Hong Kong domestic helper agency to make the migration possible, will meet senior officials at Myanmar's Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security tomorrow to review his plans for ensuring the protection of its workers in Hong Kong.
These plans included weekly home visits for the first three months of the workers' contracts by Myanmar-speaking staff employed by the agency, followed by monthly visits for the remainder of their two-year contracts, Khaung said.
Workers' rights advocates in Myanmar, however, said this was insufficient because recruitment agencies had a record of exploitation and the Myanmar government lacked the ability to protect its workers at home, let alone overseas.
Chit Oo Maung, a liaison officer at the Labour Rights Clinic in Yangon, said Myanmar recruiters routinely failed to inform workers about their rights and skimmed larger than agreed slices off their salaries once they were overseas.
Another activist, who requested anonymity, said: "Myanmar's recruitment agencies have been involved in trafficking and smuggling of workers."
Responding directly to those claims, a representative of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation, said its members - which include Gold Mine Manpower - had been working to eliminate illegal practices since the federation was formed last year.
Myanmar recruiters are said to be eager to cast off their pariah status to take advantage of new opportunities.
The federation's representative said that it had already sought assistance from the International Labour Organisation to develop a code of conduct.
Hong Kong recruitment firms have been quick to demonstrate an eagerness to work with their Myanmar counterparts.
Dozens of firms and numerous associations had sent representatives to the country since late last year to find local partners and lobby government officials for access to Myanmar's job-recruitment market, recruiters in Yangon say.
Khaung said their interest was sparked by advertisements for Myanmar maids in Hong Kong that were placed by his partner firm, Golden Mind Employment Agency.
He said his plan to supply maids to Hong Kong was being closely monitored by the Myanmar government, which saw it as a possible template for exporting migrant workers.
Additional reportingby Phila Siu