Monday, September 25, 2017

Han Jen dispute rolls on as arbitration fails to tackle pay

Labour disputes striking the Han Jen garment factory are far from resolved despite a district arbitration council’s recent ruling that five fired union members must be rehired and compensated. According to the demonstrating workers, the arbitration’s October 19 decision addresses just one of their eight demands.

Protesting workers sit outside the Han Jen garment factory in Shwe Pyi Thar township on October 19. (Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times)Protesting workers sit outside the Han Jen garment factory in Shwe Pyi Thar township on October 19. (Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times)

The garment workers hit the picket lines on September 23, angered that factory management had abolished allowances and bonuses in the wake of the newly enshrined K3600 minimum wages. Workers said the slashing of the benefits has rendered an effective pay cut, with their take-home earnings now as much as 30 percent lower than their salaries before the minimum wage went into effect.

“This isn’t about being sorry or unhappy about losing the job. We are demanding our rights as workers. Workers can’t make it on only K108,000 [a month] – that won’t meet our cost of living,” said the Han Jen factory’s labour union chair, Ko Kyaw Myint.

Workers at the factory told The Myanmar Times they previously earned between K135,000 and K150,000, inclusive of overtime bonuses, living and travel stipends, and other add-ons.

Taking their eight grievances to the district arbitration council has not cleared up the dispute, which affects roughly half the factory’s workforce. On October 19, the council members recommended the factory re-hire five union members, but not reinstate the labour union leader. But that was only one of the demands, and one that had only a small bearing on the overall dispute.

“We didn’t get any solution about our salaries, which we had asked them to resolve,” said labour union member Ma Thin Thin Aye, one of the members who was fired by the factory.

Over 1000 workers are continuing to demonstrate, and the group now demands labour officials intervene in the case within the next three days, or the protests will be taken a step further, Ko Kyaw Myint told The Myanmar Times.

The factory also sought to up the stakes and encourage the workers to return by announcing on October 14 that any workers who did not resume their positions by October 17 would be considered as having voluntarily resigned. None of the 1057 striking workers returned by the cut-off date, according to the union.

“I call on the Ministry of Labour to come here and ask about the workers’ living conditions,” Ko Kyaw Myint said. “The arbitration council took one month and three days to consider our dispute, yet it is still not solved.”

Yangon Region Department of Labour deputy director Daw Lwin Lwin Myint claimed to have received just one complaint from the Han Jen factory workers about the fired union members, however. She encouraged them to file additional complaints if they have further issues.

“We can only solve disputes sent from the township labour department. If they aren’t satisfied with the solution, they have the right to appeal. We will solve every reported case,” said Daw Lwin Lwin Myint, who is also a member of the district arbitration council.

The Han Jen factory manager declined to comment about the dispute when reached by phone yesterday.