Laid off workers of the South Korean Master Sports footwear factory allege that they were beaten by police and that 20 workers were injured when they went to the closed down factory on Tuesday to pick up their unpaid salaries and severance pay.
The factory closed abruptly in late June and workers were dismissed without receiving their salaries for that month. About 700 workers marched to protest in front of the South Korean Embassy on July 17 to demand the payments.
In August, the Rangoon Division Labor Tribunal decided that the factory should provide a severance pay of several months and salary for June to the workers by Tuesday, Sept. 16.
Phyu Phyu Soe, a leader of the workers, said some 200 former employees went to the factory in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone on Tuesday afternoon to meet Win Shein, director-general of the Factories and General Labor Laws Inspection Department of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security, adding that many had hoped to receive their payments.
“The director-general told us to enter into the factory compound to talk as we asked him to give us a specific date for the compensated payment,” she said, adding that Win Shein then told workers they would have to wait until November to receive their pay, a demand that caused anger among the workers.
“After we were inside, the gate is closed and he started calling the police,” Phyu Phyu Soe said, alleging that “hundreds of policemen” arrived at about 10 pm to bring Win Shein to safety and beat the laborers.
“Many of us are women workers and they beat us mostly to our heads and arms,” she said, adding that four people sustained severe head injuries while another 16 received minor injuries.
U Htay, a lawyer helping the workers, said, “The workers told me this morning that when they were beaten, [Win Shein] did not even protect them.
“We help with sending those with head injuries to the hospital for treatment. Many of those with minor injuries received treatment at outside clinic.”
Rangoon Region Police Col. Chit Oo said some of his men were injured by workers during the unrest. “Nine police were also hurt in yesterday’s clash, six are now at the hospital,” he said, adding that police had no plan to press charges against the workers.
“We just asked two of their leaders to come to the police station and sign a document that they will not gather again,” he said.
During a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday, Win Shein, the director-general, failed to address the unrest. He stated that some 650 workers would receive their payments after the factory’s assets are auctioned off on Oct 9.
The Rangoon Labor Tribunal’s decision from August said the severance must equal to three months of pay for workers who worked in the factory for more than a year, and three months for workers who worked in the factory less than 10 months.
The Labor Ministry has said it filed a lawsuit against the factory owner. The state-run media reported last month that if the Korean owner failed to appear at the court to solve the problem, his assets will be seized and dispensed as compensation for workers.
Workers have been angered by the long wait, however, and claim that the ministry is not working quickly enough to ensure they receive their pay.
Additional reporting from Rangoon by Nang Seng Nom.