Foreign Embassies Press Govt to Intervene in Shwepyithar Garment Strike

By May Sitt Paing 23 February 2015

RANGOON — Concerned embassies have reportedly made representations to the Burmese government on behalf of foreign businesses affected by a long-running strike at the Shwepyithar Industrial Zone.

On Feb. 2, about 2000 employees of the E-Land, COSTEC and Ford Glory garment factories stopped work to demand a raise in monthly wages to 80,000 kyats [US$78]. The factories are owned by Chinese and South Korean firms, according to the workers.

“I can’t say which embassies filed complaints,” said Htin Aung, Deputy Minister for Employment and Social Security, during a press conference held at the Insein Township General Administration Department on Sunday. “Their complaints did not reach us, they were filed with an authority higher than us. Embassies called for actions in line with our existing laws, as the investments of their citizens are being affected.”

The Chinese embassy in Rangoon was closed for Chinese New Year and unable to provide comment. The South Korean embassy was sought for comment.

Htin Aung said textile manufacturers usually did not finalize orders in May and June, and were not currently in the position to offer a wage increase of the size sought by the striking garment workers.

Workers have called for a monthly increase of 30,000 kyats [$29.10], while the three employers have individually proposed counteroffers based on an increase to daily wages, which each total around 12,000 kyats [$11.60] per month.

Employees have said that they would consider the proposed pay increase but have yet to return to work.

Meanwhile, there were reports of a clash and some arrests between over 100 policemen and workers staging a protest in front of the E-Land factory on Friday evening, following four rounds of failed negotiations between government, employer and employee representatives.

The discussions had focused on wage increases, the stalled minimum wage bill, and demands for the free formation and recognition of labor unions.

“Employers have filed complaints to the court,” Zaw Aye Maung, the Rangoon Division government’s Labor Affairs Minister, said of the events on Friday. “That’s why there have been some procedural arrests by police. We have no reason to intervene as [employers] filed complaints over their losses.”