Myanmar Garment Factory Closes As COVID-19 Cuts Supplies

By Salai Thant Zin 4 March 2020

PATHEIN, Ayeyarwady Region—The coronavirus outbreak in China has forced a garment factory in Ayeyarwady Region to close suddenly, leaving all its workers jobless. A few months ago, the factory was busy and the employees complained about forced overtime on weekends and public holidays.

Nearly 1,000 employees at Hua Meng Garment Factory in Kangyidaunt Township were made redundant at the end of February as the factory has run out of raw materials for clothing and still cannot import materials from China.

“The factory management announced on Feb. 28 that the factory will close on Feb. 29. Nearly 1,000 workers at the factory have lost their jobs, imposing hardship on workers,” Ma Su Pone Chit, secretary of Hua Meng Factory’s Labor Union, told The Irrawaddy.

The factory has reportedly given redundancy and compensation payments as required by labor law.

“The factory will close temporarily (for an indefinite period) as of 29.2.2020,” the management’s announcement on Feb. 28 read, “over a shortage of raw materials as textiles can’t be imported due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in China.”

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach the factory management for further comment.

Over 800 employees accepted the redundancy payment. But some 200 others refused the payment, partly because the factory closed without notice, and partly because they feel as though they were fired.

“When we asked the HR manager, she said the factory would reopen, but everyone who has received redundancy payments will have to apply for their jobs again when the factory reopens, and we may or may not get our jobs back then. Around 200 workers are not happy with it and thus refused to accept compensation,” said Ma Su Pone Chit.

“We understand the difficulties of the employer,” she added. “He does not need to give us a lot of compensation. We would be more than satisfied if he could tell us how long the closure will last and pay just half of our salaries. We are willing to wait together with the employer until the factory reopens.”

Ayeyarwady Region Chief Minister U Hla Moe Aung met with the labor union leaders at Hua Meng Factory on Tuesday following the employees’ complaint over the closure.

In December, workers at Hua Meng Factory staged a sit-in protest over working conditions and payment. They complained that they were forced to work overtime on Sundays and public holidays.

There are only nine garment factories in Ayeyarwady Region, including Hua Meng. The eight others are located in an industrial zone in the regional capital of Pathein and are all still operating.

“We have raw materials which we have stored over time and we are managing to operate with the existing stocks,” said Ko Thet Naing, manager of Myanmar Knitting Garment Factory, the biggest garment factory in Pathein Industrial Zone. “We are concerned that factory workers will suffer if the factory closes. For the time being, we have no plan to close.”

Over 120,000 people are employed at the eight garment factories in Pathein Industrial Zone, the biggest industrial zone in the region.

Garment factories in Yangon have also reduced working hours. Many of them are now only working four days a week due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on imports of raw materials from China, which supplies up to 90 percent of clothing materials to Myanmar’s garment industry.

According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus has killed 3,131 people around the world as of Tuesday and spread globally across 78 countries.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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