More than 200 garment workers in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon Monday marked the seventh day of a strike demanding full salary for November after the owner of the factory that employs them docked their pay for failing to meet production targets.
The workers, who comprise more than two-thirds of the labor force at the Hteik Tan Myanmar Garment Factory, have been protesting in front of the facility in Zone No. 4 of Yangon’s Hlaingthayar Industrial Park since Dec. 7 after only receiving half of their pay last month, representative Moe Sanda Myint said.
“The factory owner paid us for only 15 days in November, although we worked for the full month,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that management had promised to hold talks with the workers but would not pay them their full salary.
“The owner’s representative … accused us of failing to work up to expectations. But as we worked for the entire month, we will continue our demand for full salary in discussions with the factory owner, the government and the Worker’s Union.”
According to Moe Sanda Myint a mediation group had scheduled a Monday meeting between worker representatives and Hteik Tan’s owner, but the latter never showed up.
Since the strike began, workers have been barred from using the factory’s ferry services and the dormitory where they usually reside, he said.
Shoe workers sued
Also on Monday, workers at the Taiyee Shoe Factory in Hlaingthayar’s Zone No. 3 told RFA that their manager had brought a defamation lawsuit against 15 of them after they held a protest last month demanding the rehire of recently fired union leaders.
“Fifteen workers from the union, including me, are being sued under Articles 294, 341, 500 and 114 by manager Daw Amy Hlaing through the Hlaingthayar Police Station,” Worker’s Union secretary Htet Thu Aung told RFA.
Htet Thu Aung did not provide details of why the union leaders were fired by the factory management or the alleged acts committed by the workers during last month’s protests, but Articles 294, 341, 500 and 114 of Myanmar’s Penal Code refer to obscene acts or songs, obstruction, defamation and abetting, respectively.
He said that around 100 workers from Taiyee traveled to the office of President Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw late last month to file a grievance against the owner of their factory for “violating worker’s laws,” but were stopped by authorities.
Hlaingthayar is one of Myanmar’s largest industrial parks and has endured a number of labor disputes in recent years, as investors flock to the country transitioning from a military regime to a fledgling democracy.
In May, thousands of mostly female factory workers from Hlaingthayar and two other industrial parks in Yangon marked International Workers’ Day by marching through the city to demand an increase in their minimum wage.
The garment workers from Hlaingthayar, Shwepyitha and Mingalardon industrial parks called on factory owners to raise their daily pay to 5,000 kyats (U.S. $4.60) from around 1,500 kyats (U.S. $1.40) per day, citing comparatively higher wages for laborers in other countries in Southeast Asia.
Rights lawyer Ko Ni told RFA at the time that while Myanmar has some 20 labor laws in its constitution, most of them were issued in the country’s colonial era under British rule and became ineffective when the country switched to a more socialist system after independence.
“Company owners don’t do anything for workers, such as protecting their health, providing a safe working environment or capacity building—they simply order them to work for many hours at low wages,” he said.
It was unclear whether either the Hteik Tan or Taiyee factories produce items for international garment firms.
Reported by Thiri Min Zin, Aung Theinkha and Aung Min Htike for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.