Striking Hlaing Tharyar Factory Workers Take Labor Dispute to the Capital

By Nyein Nyein 1 December 2015

Around 100 workers from the Tai Yi shoe factory in Rangoon Division’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone traveled to Naypyidaw on Monday with the aim of resolving a labor dispute following a more than week-long protest at their factory.

The Tai Yi workers, who claim their employer is in violation of the 2011 Labor Organization Law which provides for labor unions to represent workers, traveled to Naypyidaw on Monday to file a complaint at the labor ministry and President’s Office. However, police prevented them from reaching the latter location.

The workers have been on strike since Nov. 20 and said their dispute had not been solved at the township or district level.

“We were stopped both at the tollgate and on our way to the President’s Office,” said Moe Wai, the chair of the Tai Yi factory’s Labour Organization.

The group was able to meet with labor ministry permanent secretary Myo Aung on Monday morning who suggested they “negotiate with the employer at the township level [Hlaing Tharyar] on the issue,” according to Moe Wai.

In dispute, workers say, is their right to be represented by a labor organization of their choice under the 2011 law.

On Monday afternoon, workers were given a letter by the labor ministry, signed by Myo Aung, who is also director-general of the ministry, providing a meeting date on Wednesday afternoon in Hlaing Tharyar Township between workers, company representatives and government officials.

“We had to turn back and are now protesting in front of Tai Yi,” said Chan Nyein on Tuesday, a Tai Yi employee who has worked at the factory for three years, and joined the group’s convoy to the capital on Monday.

About 1,300 workers are currently employed at Tai Yi shoe factory and nearly 1,000 are members of a labor organization that formed in 2012, after the 2011 labor law was enacted.

Over 1,800 “Basic Labor Organizations” have since formed in accordance with the law, according to Aung Lin, a labor rights activist and former chair of the Myanmar Trade Union Federation, which is soon to be disbanded.

Members of the Tai Yi Labour Organization began a sit-in protest inside the factory on Nov. 20, demanding their right to unionize be included in their employment contract. A week later, the factory’s entrance was barred and a warning was issued to workers that only those who sign a newly drafted employment contract would be able to enter the building.

Moe Wai told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that striking workers had continued their protest outside the factory on Nov. 27.

“Their demands are in accordance with the current labor organization laws, but I don’t really know of their problems in detail,” said Aung Lin, adding that he hoped the dispute would be adequately resolved on Wednesday.

Workers at the Chinese-owned Tai Yi factory have staged various protests over issues such as unfair dismissal, low daily wages and other labor issues since at least 2010. The Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone hosts hundreds of factories with tens of thousands of employees and has been at the center of long-running labor disputes over workers’ rights.