Myanmar Labor Activists Fined for Factory Protest

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 13 February 2020

Yangon – Five labor rights activists, including a labor activist from a US-owned garment factory, were threatened with 24 days in prison unless they paid fines of 30,000 kyats (US$21) at Yangon’s Dagon Township Court on Feb. 11 for an unlawful assembly.

The five led more than 400 factory workers from the Natural Garment Company in Shwelinban industrial zone, Hlaing Tharyar Township, to the Yangon regional government offices on Nov. 7, 2019. They called on the National League for Democracy’s regional chief minister, U Phyo Min Thein, to take action against employers who they said violated labor rights and employment contracts.

Garment factory worker leaders Ma Thandar Phyoe, Ko Kyaw Myo Htike, Ko Chit Nan Maung and Ko Pyae Sone Aung and activist Ma Moe Sandra Myint from the labor rights advocacy group Action Labor Rights, were sued by Dagon police under Section 19 of the Unlawful Assembly Act.

Several labor supporters had to help pay the court fines to avoid prison sentences for the five union representatives.

“We just went there to request government help with our labor rights violation case. But we were sentenced although we did nothing wrong. This is unfair,” activist Ma Moe Sandra Myint told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

The case undermined trust in government as no action was taken against employers who repeatedly violated labor rights and contracts, said Ma Moe Sandra Myint.

The labor disputes began in August 2019 because staff said their salaries were cut. Around 1,500 factory workers reportedly went on strike in September.

Media reports said strikers stopped 10 Chinese technicians and two interpreters from reaching the factory in mid-September as the management called for talks.

Strikers released the factory’s technicians and interpreters after the township offered to hold negotiations.

The factory announced its closure on Nov. 7, saying that operations had been disrupted by the strike. The management said it would compensate workers for the closure. The announcement led to the November protest.

The Natural Garment management was unavailable for comment. The clothing factory closed last year only to re-open with many of its former staff. Union leaders were excluded, said Ma Moe Sandra Myint.

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