Myanmar police on Thursday arrested 13 protesters, including fired hotel workers, from the central town of Bagan as they marched to the capital Naypyidaw where they planned to ask central government officials for help with getting their jobs back, said a police officer involved in the situation.
Fifty protesters participated in the march, including workers from the Tharabar Hotel who were laid off in August because of dwindling guest numbers, sacked workers from the Double Rhinos cement factory and Power dry cell battery factory in Bagan, and members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and the All Myanmar Workers’ Union (AMWU).
Police arrested four workers from the Tharabar Hotel, three students from the ABFSU, one person from the AMWU, and five workers from Mandalay, for violating Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, said the officer from Nyaung Oo township, where the protesters were stopped. The officer did not give his name.
The law allows public demonstrations only if organizers first obtain permission from local authorities.
“No government officials or authorities have tried to resolve this problem,” said Nay Myo Win, the leader of the group of fired hotel workers. “That’s why the workers tried to march to Naypyidaw, where someone will resolve the issue.”
The hotel workers, who say they were unfairly fired and are demanding their jobs back, set up a protest camp near Tharabar Gate in Nyaung Oo township in October.
Central government negotiators discussed the labor dispute with those at the camp, but could not resolve it when the hotel's manager refused to rehire them.
On Nov. 4, about 100 Bagan hotel workers who were sacked demonstrated at the Manawraman public square in the central Myanmar town of Mandalay, demanding that they be reinstated, Myanmar's Mizzima online news service reported.
At the time, it was reported that hotel management had issued a statement that said that a dozen employees — about 10 percent of the staff — were let go in accordance with the law to compensate for a drop in revenue resulting from a decline in tourism, the report said.
“Since we have exhausted the last stage of arbitration at the Union level, we will continue with the course of law,” Kyaw Hein, manager of the Tharabar Hotel, told Mizzima. “There will be no more arbitration. We will take the course of law.”
After police forced the protesting workers to disperse from the camp in Bagan on Tuesday, they set out with others early Thursday on the roughly 330-kilometer (186-mile) march to Naypyidaw to take up their case with central government officials.
The ABFSU issued a statement Thursday, condemning the arrests and demanding that the workers and student demonstrators be freed.
“Nobody can visit the arrested workers at the police station,” said Thein Shwe, chairman of a labor union for hotel workers. “When we tried to see them at the court, but the court’s doors were closed.”
“We feel that our rights are being violated and that we have lost our citizens’ rights,” he said. “The workers are not thieves or robbers; they haven’t committed rape; but we can’t see them, and it is a violation of human rights.”
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.