Sacked Myanmar Workers Appeal to Adidas after Junta Breaks Factory Strike

By Hein Htoo Zan 12 December 2022

Twenty-six workers from the Myanmar Pou Chen Co. factory, which makes shoes for Adidas, have asked the global sportswear brand to investigate labor conditions there and help them get back their jobs back.

“The brand’s knowledge [of working conditions] and our actual situation may be very different. So I would like them to closely observe what is happening on the ground and stand with our workers,” said Ma Phyo Thida Win, 26, a labor union president at the Myanmar Pou Chen factory.

The workers were fired in October after leading a three-day strike at the factory in Shwe Pyi Thar Township, Yangon, over 21 points including low wages and workplace discrimination.

The Myanmar Pou Chen plant produces over 38,000 pairs of Adidas shoes per day under Taiwanese ownership.

The workers demanded a rise in the daily wage from 4,800 kyats to 8,000 kyats amid economic hardship and soaring prices for everyday goods. The factory management rejected the demand.

The first day of the strike saw a truck full of soldiers deployed to the factory. An army officer then used threats and intimidation in an effort to break up the strike, workers said. The strikers remained within the factory grounds over fear of a crackdown if they ventured on to the streets.

“But the military truck with about two-dozen armed soldiers followed us everywhere we marched inside the factory estate,” said one worker, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

The strike swelled to around 2,000 workers on Oct 27.

The Pou Chen factory employs around 7,000 workers and is one of the biggest shoe factories in Myanmar.

On October 28, the factory management announced it had fired 26 unionized workers for breaching employment contracts. Security guards ejected the 26 from the factory, according to the union.

The factory management declined to comment.

Workers inside the factory attempted to continue the strike without the unionists, but were threatened with dismissal by the management and arrest by the soldiers.

The Labour Relations Department held three meetings over the dispute in November, but the factory management refused to reinstate the 26 workers.

The workers then filed a case with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population in Naypyitaw, explaining that union leader Ma Phyo Thida Win had worked at Pou Chen for over four years.

The ministry handed the case to Shwe Pyi Thar Township Labor Department, which held meetings with those involved in the dispute on Nov. 22, 25 and Dec. 8.

However, the factory management still refused to take the workers back, and instead proposed financial compensation. The workers declined the offer, asking only for their jobs back.

“Under labor law, this case is considered a personal dispute between the workers and the employer. If the workers are not satisfied, they can sue the factory owner in a civil court. But we don’t trust the judicial system under the junta, so, the only option left to us is to go to Adidas,” said a labor rights activist who is assisting the Pou Chen workers.