Myanmar Workers Call Off Overnight Protest After Chief Minister Weighs In  

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 24 October 2019

YANGON – Striking workers from five factories ended an overnight sit-in protest in front of the Yangon regional government office at noon on Wednesday when government officials agreed to intervene in disputes between the workers and their employers that township labor arbitration bodies had been unable to resolve.

The factory workers held the sit-in throughout Tuesday night in front of the Yangon regional government office after the government failed to reply to their request for intervention. It was the first overnight labor sit-in under the present National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government.

By noon Tuesday, over 200 workers from five garment factories in Hlaingtharyar, Shwepyithar and Insein townships had gathered in front of the Yangon regional government office, claiming that their employers are violating agreement contracts, and asking the regional government to intervene.

Workers decided to stay in front of the government office the whole night after the government did not respond to their request.

However, the regional government started negotiations with labor representatives on Wednesday afternoon, Daw Moe Sandar Myint of Action Labor Rights, an advocacy group, told The Irrawaddy.

“The strikes happened because foreign investors in Myanmar fail to comply with the laws of the country. They even seek help from the government. We have come here to make sure [investors] abide by the rules and regulations and that the laws are enforced,” she said.

After hearing about the disputes at each of the five factories, Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein returned the disputes to the respective arbitration bodies and township labor departments, instructing them to settle the cases as soon as possible and fairly.

“The chief minister told us [officials] would take action against both picketing strikers as well as those employers who have violated existing laws,” Ko Sai Yu Maung of the Action Labor Rights Network told The Irrawaddy yesterday.

In a related development, U Phyo Min Thein has instructed the Hlaing Tharyar Township labor department to cooperate with local police to sue a driver and employer whose car hit striking workers in front of a township labor dispute conciliation office on Oct. 4, Ko Sai Yu Maung added.

Video clips seen by The Irrawaddy show the factory employer’s car bumping into a group of about five female workers who were attempting to block its path as the employer tried to return home. No one was seriously injured in the incident.

Workers have complained about low pay, poor conditions and lack of overtime pay, performance pay and leave entitlements at the five garment factories: SDI, Young Clothing 2, Kai Cheng, Natural Garment and Myanmar Lucky.

Workers have also reported they were not allowed to form labor unions freely, and that employers have threatened to sack labor leaders. They also accuse their employers of violating the Settlement of Labor Disputes Law, and of failing to abide by agreements reached with township labor dispute arbitration committees, Daw Moe Sandar Myint said.

Workers sought help from the regional government after their employers failed to follow agreements reached in consultation with the Workers Coordinating Committee, a tripartite committee of representatives of the government, employers and employees.

“They don’t need to gather like that in front of the government [office]. They can submit a request letter if they want to meet with the chief minister. That kind of gathering can damage the [government’s] image—the chief minister said this,” Daw Kyin Aye, who represents employers at the Yangon Region Labor Dispute Arbitration Council, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

U Kyin Thein, who represents workers before the council, said dialogue between workers and employers is the best way to resolve labor disputes.

He said disputes should be taken to the regional and central labor dispute arbitration councils, which are authorized to make decisions step by step, in cases where township arbitration bodies fail to make progress.

“Personally, I don’t agree with strikers’ blocking the roads in order to pressure the government and create a crisis,” he said.

The activists and striking workers said they were forced to seek the regional government’s intervention because their labor rights were being violated and they had been denied the proper legal protections, adding that employers and township labor officials had failed to follow the labor laws.