Myanmar Police Arrest Protesters Marching For Labor Rights

The former employees of a wood-processing factory were heading to Naypyidaw to take up their concerns with the government.

A Myanmar protester demanding labor rights is arrested by police in Tatkon township outside the capital Naypyidaw, May 18, 2016.

About 200 police officers arrested a dozen striking factory workers and activists near Myanmar’s administrative capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday as they marched for labor rights, a local township official said.

The former employees of a wood-processing factory in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, were heading to Naypyidaw to take up their concerns with national politicians.

Labor officials requested that the demonstrators get some rest at a camp belonging to a government agricultural department, said Aye Thaung, administrator of Ottara township where the stand-off with police took place.

“We arranged some water and soft drinks for them,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We told them they could tell us their demands there, and we would forward them to the authorities concerned, but they wouldn’t listen.”

When police moved in, they did not use any truncheons or weapons against the protestors, Aye Thaung said.

“We used the softest, most gentle, approach to disperse them,” Aye Thaung said.

After police took them to a police station in nearby Tatkon township, labor officials filed charges only against the leaders of the protest, as instructed by Naypyidaw authorities, he said.

Myo Aung, chairman of the Naypyidaw Region Council, offered to meet five protest leaders in Tatkon to hear them out, but the workers insisted they all be present.

“We told them we’d take them back home [to Sagaing region] if they promised not to do this again in the future,” Aye Thaung said.

Police arrested eight people, but will take legal action only against those who committed offenses, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reported, citing local police chief Ko Ko Aung.

Wrongfully fired

The ex-workers from the Myanmar Veneer and Plywood Private Ltd. factory began their march on April 29 to demand government mediation in a company dispute, DVB reported. They say they were wrongfully fired for demanding overtime pay and improvements in working conditions.

“We want to trust our leaders, but we have come across numerous such negotiations before,” said one striking worker who declined to be named. “If the mayor doesn’t show up in one and a half hours, if he doesn’t want to see us, we will proceed further from here. And if we can’t, we will wait here until the authorities see us.”

Another worker said the group was dismayed after police forced them into riot vans after saying they had the right to protest for their rights.

“We don’t want to rebel against the government,” he said. “Why can’t we have our human rights if we have democracy?”

The protest comes at a time when parliament is about to open debate on a draft amendment to the Peaceful Assembly Act.

Rights activists have expressed concern over legal actions against protestors involved in several recent demonstrations, despite pledges by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s new civilian government of pro-democracy change.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.