Construction jobs erased in Myanmar amid Covid, political woes

A Myanmar migrant worker passes his time near his room as he has been stuck for 12 days due to lockdown measures in the workers' dormitory in Bangkok as construction jobs in Myanmar come to a halt. - Reuters

YANGON (Bloomberg): Myanmar’s construction industry is reeling from the twin blows of the coronavirus pandemic and a military takeover in February, with developers forced to dismiss hundreds of thousand workers from stalled projects.

It may take the industry at least three years to "return to normal,” according to Myo Myint, general secretary of Myanmar Construction Entrepreneurs Federation.

More jobs are at risk if the authorities fail to contain the spread of Covid-19 and minimize its impact on one of the leading job providers in the country, he said.

Myanmar, like much of South-East Asia, is seeing new virus cases and fatalities set daily records, crippling an economy that’s now forecast by the World Bank to contract 18% this year. Prospects of any short-term recovery for the construction sector are seen blunted by the slow pace of vaccinations.

The Construction Federation estimates that about half of the 1.3 million people working in the industry before the pandemic have lost their jobs, with political turmoil following the military takeover in February further squeezing the sector.

"No one knows exactly when this pandemic will end,” Myo Myint said. "If the authorities manage to contain the virus spread within a short time, then this could prevent from more people from losing jobs.”

Construction-related businesses also have to contend with a cash crunch and depreciation of kyat against the US dollar, Myo Myint said. The ouster of the Aung San Suu Kyi-led civilian government and sanctions by some nations because of the coup have reduced the inflow of foreign investment as well.

To ensure the industry’s revival within a few years, he urged the regime to support three fundamental needs of the sector: man, money and materials.

"No matter how hard authorities try to encourage construction businesses here, it’ll be hard to realise their targets unless these fundamental needs are fulfilled,” he said.

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