Thursday, September 21, 2017

Workers strike over wage demands

More than 12,000 striking workers from 30 Yangon factories gathered in Hlaing Tharyar township on June 9 to protest against their wages and working conditions, and to reiterate their strike demands. Among their complaints was employers’ defiance of decisions made by the Dispute Settlement Arbitration Council.

Factory workers protesting in Hlaing Tharyar township on June 9.. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)Factory workers protesting in Hlaing Tharyar township on June 9.. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)

Other demands included a basic daily wage of K3000 per day, and an end to dismissals without cause and to compulsory overtime.

“When the factory owner fired six of us, the Dispute Settlement Arbitration Council decided we should be rehired and paid compensation for the days lost. But when we tried to go back to work, the factory owner said he couldn’t accept the decision,” Ma Khin Htay Yee, a worker at Htaik Tan Myanmar garment factory, told The Myanmar Times.

She added that in January workers protested because the owner had not raised wages as promised, but then they went back to work anyway. “Only six of us stayed out, and the owner then fired us for protesting.”

Ko Zaw Zaw Tun, a worker at Bo San pipe factory, said he and his colleagues were upset at being forced to work overtime.

“Workers don’t want to work overtime every day. We have to work day and night, and have no time for our personal lives. But without overtime we don’t earn enough to live on,” he said.

“Negotiations went on for months without a solution. ... Last month labour ministry officials got involved but they couldn’t solve the problem either. They told us to go to the Dispute Settlement Arbitration Council but the council referred us to the township-level dispute settlement board.”

Activists say basic factory wages are too low, and have to be supplemented by bonuses and overtime. Some workers also demand action against owners who defy decisions of the Dispute Settlement Arbitration Council by refusing to allow successful claimants back to work.

“The council decided in my favour after I was fired. Workers from our factory are now demanding a wage increase,” said Ma Hla Hla, who works in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone.

Ma Hla Hla, who has been working at the factory for four years, said her take-home salary is K50,000. She pays K30,000 a month in rent and can barely support her family.

Workers from 30 factories protest in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar township on June 10. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)Workers from 30 factories protest in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar township on June 10. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)

But U Myat Thin Aung, president of Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone’s management committee, said in a meeting in May that factory owners could not pay more wages because they were facing electricity shortages and increases in the prices of materials and imported goods.

U Aye Tun, managing director of Aung Thein Than and secretary of the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone management committee, said that while salaries are low the Dispute Settlement Arbitration Council’s decisions were too favourable for workers.

“Officials from the council always talk to the owner when they negotiate a dispute but they make the owner fulfil the workers’ demands as much as possible. I think the council should use a standard payment system to resolve the disputes,” he said.

He said both sides needed to show “understanding and transparency”.

“Workers should understand the conditions and difficulties of the owners and owners should understand the lives of the workers as well,” he said. “I think most of the protests occur because of lack of transparency between owners and workers.”

But U Win Shein, director of the Department of Factories and General Labour Laws Inspection Department, said government bodies were doing their best to resolve the disputes fairly.

“We are trying to resolve the situation between workers and owners by negotiating in the factory or at the township-level dispute settlement boards. If the dispute is not solved at these levels, we can go to the Dispute Settlement Arbitration Council and even to the district-level dispute resolution office in accordance with the new Settlement of Labour Disputes law,” U Win Shein said.

“Government officials from the relevant department are trying to resolve disputes between workers and owners. They solve problems fairly.”