Police Arrest Protesting Garment Workers

By Yen Saning 4 March 2015

RANGOON — Police in Rangoon Division’s Insein Township arrested at least 20 striking workers on Wednesday afternoon who had begun a sit-in protest earlier in the day.

About 100 workers from COSTEC and Ford Glory garment factories in Shwepyithar Industrial Zone, who have been protesting to demand a pay rise from their employers for over a month, began a fresh sit-in protest on Wednesday morning after a planned march to City Hall was blocked by hundreds of police.

Hla Hla Htay, a striking worker from the COSTEC garment factory, said police moved on the protesters late on Wednesday, arresting at least 20 and forcing others to disperse.

On Feb. 2, about 2,000 employees of the E-Land Myanmar, COSTEC and Ford Glory garment factories began a strike to demand a raise in monthly wages to 80,000 kyat [US$78], up from 50,000 kyat. The factories, which are owned by Chinese and South Korean firms, according to the workers, rejected the demands and offered 62,000 kyats.

While some laborers have since returned to work, about 600 workers from the COSTEC and Ford Glory factories remain on strike.

Before the police crackdown, Hla Hla Htay said police had asked workers to apply for permission to protest. The workers claimed they had already sought permission but received no reply.

“Police told us to turn back and said what we were doing was unlawful,” Hla Hla Htay said.

“Whenever there are talks, workers and employers cannot [efficiently] negotiate. We have to talk with [relevant] ministers. Now they have also arrested some of our leaders. We are just a few people but the police have a lot of protection.”

The striking workers say they will not return to work until their demand for a pay rise—to 80,000 kyat per month—is met.

Workers have also demanded the introduction of a set, fair minimum wage; firm action against employers that break the law; compensation during the negotiation period; and the release of striking laborers who have been arrested in recent weeks.

Aye Sandar Win, a worker from COSTEC, told The Irrawaddy that negotiations with some government ministers have so far proved fruitless.

“They neglected our demands and told us to go back to work within three days,” she said. “Zaw Aye Maung [Rangoon Division labor affairs minister] told us that we were creating our own fate and that there was only the precipice ahead of us.”