Burmese Workers in Jordan Strike for Better Pay, Conditions

By Lin Thant 28 February 2013

Striking Burmese workers at a garment factory in Jordan say they will continue to push for better pay and working conditions, two weeks after walking off the job to protest what they describe as discrimination by their employer.

“Our demands are to be provided with Burmese-friendly food, an end to discriminatory treatment based on racial background and an increase in our salary from the current amount of US $155 to $200,” Kyaw Zin Oo, one of the protesting workers, told The Irrawaddy.

He said there are more than 1,200 female and 100 male workers from Burma currently employed at his factory, which is owned by the Century Miracle Apparel Mfg. Co., Ltd and located in the northwestern Jordanian city of Ar Ramtha.

The strike began with around 30 workers on Feb. 14, and has since grown to include almost all of the Burmese workers at the factory, he said.

The workers said they have contacted the Burmese embassy in Israel for help because there is no Burmese diplomatic mission in Jordan, but it remains unclear what, if anything, the embassy will do to resolve the issue.

“Burmese officials in Israel told us that they were unable to come and see us, but would call the authorities in Jordan and settle the dispute,” said Kyaw Zin Oo.

However, a report by the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday indicated that little help would be forthcoming, as the embassy had “found that the employer is fulfilling clauses in employment contracts.”

The newspaper also said that despite the “invalidity” of the employment agencies that brought the workers to Jordan, Burma’s Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security would deal with the issue through embassy in Israel.

The Burmese embassy in Israel did not respond to requests for information when contacted by The Irrawaddy.

Kyaw Zin Oo said that the workers also asked the Burmese agents who sent them to Jordan for help negotiating with their employer, but so far only one has tried to mediate between them and the factory management.

“Ko Sai [the agent] came to negotiate with us, but since we know he is not in a position to make a deal, we told him we wanted to meet with our employer directly,” said Kyaw Zin Oo, adding that case is complicated by a language barrier and the lack of a formal labor organization.

On Tuesday, 21 workers’ representatives from workers were reportedly invited to meet with their employer, but the meeting was later canceled for reasons that remain unclear.

Under Jordanian labor laws, workers are required request permission to stage a protest 14 days in advance and to return to the workplace within 48 hours. If they fail to meet these conditions, they will be fined 50 Jordanian dinar (US $70) for the first day of their walkout, and five dinar for each subsequent day they remain off the job.

According to The New Light of Myanmar, the striking workers will be given no wages, and those who refuse to return to work will be provided with return airfare to Burma.