Monday, September 25, 2017

Blocked workers stage sit-in protest

Striking factory workers took to marching through Yangon yesterday after negotiations over requested salary hikes stalled yet again.

More than 100 factory workers staged a sit-in protest yesterday in Insein township after police blocked their march from Shwe Pyi Thar to downtown Yangon, where they planned to set up a second protest camp. Authorities on March 3 gave the workers three days to disperse, a deadline they say they will defy unless their wage demands are met. (Naing Wynn Htoon/The Myanmar Times)More than 100 factory workers staged a sit-in protest yesterday in Insein township after police blocked their march from Shwe Pyi Thar to downtown Yangon, where they planned to set up a second protest camp. Authorities on March 3 gave the workers three days to disperse, a deadline they say they will defy unless their wage demands are met. (Naing Wynn Htoon/The Myanmar Times)

About 100 of the 1200 picketing workers set out yesterday morning from a protest camp outside E-Land Myanmar garment factory in Shwe Pyi Thar township for City Hall, where they planned to set up a second camp.

But 90 minutes into the march, 300 police blocked the workers beside the busy Danyingone junction in Insein township.

With the heavy police presence stopping them from continuing their march downtown, the workers staged a sit-in instead.

“Sitting in the protest camp isn’t enough – we will be sued soon. So we have to do this,” Ma Aye Sanda Win, a labourer from Costec garment factory, said as she sat on No 4 Main Road in Insein township, flanked on either side by police.

The march was triggered by a breakdown in talks on March 3 between workers, factory owners and the government. Rather than delivering the K30,000-a-month pay boost the workers had requested, the government told them they had three days to return to their factories or face arrest.

More than 3800 workers from five garment and shoe factories in Yangon industrial zones started picketing in January. While their demands varied by factory, all called for a salary increase.

On February 17, the Yangon Region government attempted to negotiate with the workers but the offer of minimal pay increases failed to lure them back to work, and police were sent to close down the picket lines.

Instead of ending the strike, the police deployment led to violent clashes and the arrest of two labour union leaders and an activist, who the government alleges were responsible for instigating the strikes.

The strike-hit factories, which are owned by Chinese and South Korean companies, have rejected the workers’ salary demands.

While the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers’ Association could not be reached for comment yesterday, in late February it called workers’ demands for a K60,000-a-month minimum wage unaffordable.

According to Deputy Minister for Labour U Htin Aung, most of the striking factory workers have accepted a K300-per-day increase in pay.

But the workers who remained on strike yesterday said they have no intention of compromising on K30,000 a month, even though the government has threatened to institute an emergency section of the code of criminal procedure that would ban public assemblies and put in place a curfew.

Yangon Region Minister for Security and Border Affairs Colonel Tin Win personally called the workers staging the sit-in rally yesterday and appealed to them to end their demonstration.

The workers replied that if they receive their demanded pay boost with a letter signed by a high-ranking official to ensure the promise, they will stop the picket. Otherwise, they plan to set up a second protest camp where the marchers continue to be barricaded by police. They remained on No 4 Main Road at deadline.

“We are not comfortable at the camps. Some of us are not okay because we haven’t got any salary during the protest period,” said Ma Khine Khine Moe, one of the marching workers. “We are worried about the cost of living and household expenses. But our little demands have not been accepted yet, so we can’t call off our strike.”