PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Region—Labor strike leaders from a garment factory working for international brands like Zara and Holly & Whyte have been sued by police for unlawful assembly while staging a sit-in against alleged labor rights abuses at their workplace.
Police in Pathein, the capital of Irrawaddy Region, opened a case against seven labor strike leaders and a labor activist on Monday under the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law in connection with a strike at Myanmar Knitting, a Chinese-invested garment factory in Pathein Industrial Zone.
Over 1,000 workers took part in the sit-in on Monday.
“At the request of workers, we came to help resolve industrial disputes. We were first asked [by the police] to the township General Administration Department. They did not negotiate about labor issues, but asked us to sign [a statement] to say that we won’t hold any assembly without permission in the future,” said activist Daw Kha Kha, who leads the civil society organization Help and Assistance for Employees.
“We refused to sign, and then we were asked to go along with them to Pathein central police station for talks. At the police station, they opened a case against us under the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law,” she added.
According to strike leaders, workers are not allowed to go to the bathroom during overtime. The factory management also did not repair the broken bathroom doors and failed to provide enough fans and drinking water in the factory. Workers are not given annual leave and are asked to work overtime on gazetted holidays, the representatives said.
They also complained about increased workloads and impolite treatment by the Chinese supervisors. Workers have made 45 demands.
“We were asked to work overtime on public holidays like Martyrs’ Day, and full moon days of Kason and Warso [Buddhist holidays]. We don’t want to work overtime on those days. They threatened to sack us if we don’t work overtime. So we have had to work overtime. And they don’t repair the broken toilet doors, so there are troubles when relieving ourselves,” said worker Ko Aung Myat Soe.
Pathein Township police chief, Police Major Aye Kyaw, said strike leaders did not comply when officers asked them to abide by the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law.
“We told them only to follow the law and not to assemble. As they failed to comply, we have taken legal action,” he told The Irrawaddy.
A factory manager said they would hold a press conference later to address the allegations by their employees. But on Wednesday, the sit-in was canceled as the 45 demands were met, as the factory agreed to fulfill them, and employees would be back to work on Thursday, according to the strikers.
The factory makes clothes for firms like Zara, Holly & Whyte and C&A and mostly exports to the EU and US markets, according to factory workers.
In a separate case, around 1,000 workers from the Sri Lanka-invested Amava Apparel garment factory in Pathein Industrial Zone also staged a sit-in on July 29 over alleged rights abuses.
The factory management, its labor union and the Help and Assistance for Employees organization held talks following the sit-in, and workers went back to work the same day after reportedly reaching an agreement.
Translated by Thet Ko Ko.
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