Sagaing Protestors Near Naypyidaw, Face Police Resistance

By Htet Naing Zaw 17 May 2016

NAYPYIDAW — Protestors from a plywood factory in the Sagaing Industrial Zone who are marching from Sagaing Division to Naypyidaw arrived on Tuesday to Tatkon Township, 40 miles north of the capital.

Workers from Myanmar Veneer Plywood Private Ltd. (MVPPL), which is owned by an Indian national, have said they were subjected to 12-hour workdays without overtime pay, one of a handful of grievances that prompted the march. Last October, they began protesting to demand labor rights including overtime pay, annual salary increases, higher wages for skilled laborers, bonuses and expenses for their living and transportation costs.

After negotiations with workers and labor officials, the company agreed to accommodate the demands in February but did not deliver, leading to a sit-in protest in which more than 100 participants were fired.

The dismissed workers continued the sit-in at the worksite for more than two months, after which they decided to march to Naypyidaw when another round of talks failed in late April.

“Employees are constantly subjected to oppression by their employers,” protestor Win Min Oo told The Irrawaddy. “We are marching to Naypyidaw so workers won’t continue to be oppressed under the new government.”

The Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population held a press conference regarding the issue last week, and Minister Thein Swe called for finding a solution through dialogue. He said his ministry had tried to settle disputes under the 2012 Labor Disputes Settlement Law, using mediation and arbitration committees at different levels. The law states that the central arbitration council’s ruling is final regarding labor disputes. The council has ruled in favor of the plywood company.

He sparked criticism when he added that the ministry was unable to intervene in the central arbitration council’s ruling and that concerned authorities would take care of protestors who had continued to stage protests outside of the worksite.

“The government’s labor department is not reliable, so we decided to march to Naypyidaw,” said Win Min Oo.

Protestors have demanded that the company recognize the labor union, reinstate 60 of more than 100 dismissed workers, provide compensation and not take action against the marchers.

“If our demands are not met, we’ll send a petition to the president and continue to march to the office of the Ministry of Labor in Naypyidaw,” said Win Min Oo.

Male employees at the plywood factory earn a monthly salary of about US$100, while female employees earn $150, according to workers, adding that the company said if they produced 50,000 sheets of plywood a day, they would receive a $5 monthly salary increase.

“It is utterly impossible to produce 50,000 sheets of plywood a day,” said factory worker Pyae Phyo Aung. “We can hardly produce 20,000 sheets even working day and night shifts.”

He added that the workers’ problems also stemmed from the fact that they were labor union members and a large number of union members were recently fired, whereas none of the non-members were dismissed.

Witnesses said hundreds of police, prisoner transport vehicles, police vans and barriers were deployed in Tatkon Township on Monday evening, just prior to the protestors’ arrival. Tatkon Township is part of the greater Naypyidaw Union Territory.

The plywood factory reportedly employed 360 workers prior to the protests, and now operates with about 100.