Singapore (Mizzima): Over recent years, millions of Singapore dollars have found their way to Burma through the Burmese remittance system, the nexus of the operation being run out of shops and human resources agencies in the heartland of the Lion City.
However, owing to the global financial crisis that burst upon the international stage this September, the Singapore-Burmese remittance link has suffered. With Singapore officially announcing in October that it is in a state of recession, Burmese working, or hoping to find work in the city, have found the going increasingly difficult.
A businessman from Peninsula Plaza, wishing to remain anonymous, told Mizzima, "Business has been affected and worse times are yet to come, the effect is huge for Burmese exporters, especially for those regularly trading with Singapore in rubber, gems, woods and agricultural products."
Even Burmese workers not yet drastically affected, are spending in a more circumspect manner. Bo Bo Win, owner of the Ya Nant Thit Restaurant, said, "My regular customers have not turned up during the weekend, bringing the sale's percentage down. We just broke even."
Burmese in Singapore are currently focusing their spending on essential goods, avoiding superfluous expenditures. "Since the financial market upheaval, gross sales revenue has fallen by more than ten percent," added the restaurateur.
And now, among Burmese establishments, business stakeholders are carrying out increased sales promotions, in the fight over a diminished customer base.
Furthermore, the global financial crisis has forced many new arrivals to the city-state to return to Burma – empty-handed, their being unable to secure a job in Singapore during this period of recession.
As for Burmese professionals, they are also being affected, as companies have been forced to lay off staff.
Nwae Nwae Naing, a professional and holder of an Employment Permit, together with eight other Burmese architects and designers, was recently laid off by Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart & Stewart (SRSS). The company has not, however, cancelled their Employment Permits, granting them one month in which to line up new jobs, otherwise they will be forced to return to Burma as well, within six weeks time.
Nwae Nwae Naing told Mizzima, "The company had 135 staff from top management down to junior staff. After the restructuring of the company, 50 staff had to be laid off, also including French, Philippine, Malaysian and Indonesian nationals."
Meanwhile, those unemployed Burmese in Singapore with Permanent Resident (PR) status are trying to get by as they continue to look for work.
Thiri Sandar Tun (25), holder of a Bachelor's in Commerce from Rangoon, said, "I have been looking for a job for over three months in Singapore, and I am still yet to achieve my goal."
"My father sends 800 dollars a month to cover my living expenses," she added. "But I have already spent more than ten thousand dollars over six months, including school fees."
Khine Zar Lwin (24), a Bachelor in Business Administration recipient and former administration staff manager at the Ginzarpan Pizza Hut in Rangoon, has taken up waitressing at a food court in Singapore, where she is overworked and underpaid.
"I have no other opportunities to choose from," laments Khine Zar Lwin. "I have to consider the agent's fees and I don't want to go back to Burma with empty hands." From her monthly wages (approximately US$ 650) she pays 60 percent toward her living and transportation costs, while the other 40 percent is sent home – still a colossal amount which she would never be able to earn in Burma as a waitress.
The current economic situation in Singapore can make living on the island very harsh for Burmese. The stylish art facilities, education institutions, shopping malls, sports and recreational facilities, are on par with western countries, and demand good money to be enjoyed.
It used to be that, prior to the global economic crisis, benefits offered to Burmese employees helped make Singapore livable and enjoyable, and ease the transition to a new life; affordable housing could be found. Now, the situation is much more difficult, with some Burmese in Singapore finding it difficult to make ends meet.
Due to her unemployment, Nwae Nwae Naing still cannot remit money to her family back in Burma. For now, the Burmese-Singapore remittance system, to which so many back in Burma are dependent, hangs in limbo – as Burmese in Singapore struggle to survive the financial crisis and the Lion City battles to regain its economic roar.