Workers from hotbeds of resistance to Myanmar junta say they face discrimination

More than 100 laborers from Sagaing and Magway regions were fired from factories in Yangon.
By RFA Burmese
2022.08.22
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Commuters make their way through Hlaingtharyar township on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, May 16, 2020.
AFP

More than 100 workers from two regions in Myanmar where resistance to the military regime has been particularly strong have been fired from their jobs in Yangon industrial zones, while those who remain working face widespread discrimination in the workplace, labor union representatives and workers said.

There are 29 such zones in the Yangon region that employ hundreds of thousands of Burmese, the vast majority of whom are young women who work in garment factories.

But Moe Sanda Myint, president of the Federation of General Workers Myanmar, a trade union, told RFA that factory owners have been told not to employ workers with identification cards indicating they come from Sagaing and Magway, areas where fighting between the military and opposition forces has been fierce.

“We found out from the workers that the employers are implementing the directives of the Ministry of Labor regarding this issue of the [ID] cards,” she said.

“Rumors were flying that workers holding these registration cards would be fired because of those directives, and some workers have reported this to us. We learned that there were cases of those who had actually been fired,” Moe Sanda Mying added.

Myint Kyaing, the junta’s labor minister, told RFA on Aug. 17 that reports of the firings were false.

“That news is not true; it’s wrong,” he said.

Myint Kyaing said that the Information Ministry would clarify the issue at a press conference in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw that day, but RFA later learned that didn’t happen.

Most of the fired workers are from textile factories and shoe factories in Hlaingtharyar, Shwepyitha and South Dagon township industrial zones of Yangon.

A worker who was fired from a shoe factory in the South Dagon Industrial Zone, said 15 people, including those from Magway and Sagaing identified by the numerical prefixes on their ID cards, were fired at the same time in July.

“There was a clerk in our section who told us to bring our registration cards the next day, so we did as she requested,” she said. “After that, she said those whose cards began with No. 5/ [for Sagaing] and No. 8/ [for Magway] were to be temporarily suspended. She said they would be called back when the situation calms down.”

The worker, a native of Yesagyo township in Magway, said she was suspended only six days after she got the job at a shoe factory.

Another woman fired from a garment factory in the Shwepyithar Industrial Zone (2) said she was fired without any compensation on July 21.

“We were sacked straight away just after one warning,” she told RFA. “I'm angry with them as I have to look for another job now, and I feel I was fired unfairly as I didn’t get any severance pay. The factory asked me to sign a document and fired me, just like a transaction.”

The woman from Magway’s Myothit township also said a worker whose ID card indicated he was from Ayeyarwady region was fired along with her but later was allowed to resume work.

Situation has worsened

Most of the workers who were fired said that they did not receive any compensation, and employers often forced them to make it appear as though they left their jobs voluntarily.

Additionally, garment factories in Yangon's industrial zones are no longer accepting job applications from Sagaing and Magway regions, the online news outlet Mizzima reported on Aug. 9, citing a garment factory worker as the source.

A worker who quit his job at a garment factory in the Hlaingtharyar Industrial Zone at the beginning of August said the violation of workers’ rights by factory owners has worsened since the military coup in 2021.

“Friends I used to work with tried to avoid me,” he said. “My section leader didn’t ask me to do any work, and there were even times when I wasn't given any work for a whole week. Later, I got depressed, and I quit my job.” 

Trade union and labor leaders who previously intervened to resolve workers’ disagreements with their employers fled their homes because of the insecurity that followed the coup, workers said. 

The workers also said that their situation is worse than before because individuals and organizations which used to intervene on their behalf have been weakened. 

A resident of Sagaing’s Myaing township said ID card holders have been subjected to stricter checks than those from other regions and provinces, and that employers discriminated against workers from the region.

An employee of one company, who did not want to be named for security reasons, said he has been checked more than others when he travels to other towns.

Those who have been refused hotel accommodations told RFA that when they provided their names to be registered as tourists, they were told that people from Sagaing were not welcome.  

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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