Six Strikers Hurt in Village Brawl

By Nyein Nyein 5 November 2012

Six striking workers from Taw Win carpentry factory, in Rangoon’s Shwepyitha Township, have been admitted to the city’s Insein Hospital after a brawl on Saturday.

Around 300 daily-wage workers from Taw Win have been on strike for 12 days. Ten started a hunger strike on Thursday which continued for five days and left one person hospitalized. The other five victims were apparently attacked by knife-wielding locals in Wahtayar Village, where the factory is located, at around 8 pm on Saturday.

Workers have accused factory bosses of inciting the clash in order to break the morale of the strikers.

Ye Htet Htun, a strike leader who has been working at the factory for six years, told The Irrawaddy on Monday morning that, “Four female workers are still unconscious at Insein Hospital after they were injured in the incident on Saturday night.”

“At that time, 30 strikers who were in weak health due to the long strike, went into shock and lost consciousness,” said Mar Mar Oo, a leader of the 88 Generation Students group. “They were admitted to Shwepyitha Hospital and then the four women patients in the most serious condition were sent to Insein Hospital.” All other patients left hospital on Monday.

The strike began on Oct. 25 after the factory owner refused demands to provide an employment contract, allow workers back into the factory and not to force them to work outside where they can only perform menial tasks and not skilled woodwork. They also asked for workplace rules to be rewritten with their consent and social welfare cards to be issued.

After nearly two weeks of industrial action, there was a meeting on Saturday for negotiations but no progress was made as the employer refused to meet workers’ demands.

The meeting, which involved Finance and Revenue Minister Win Shein, 88 Generation Students leaders, ten worker representatives and factory managers, failed as the employer refused their first demand, said Thida Aung, a female factory operator for 12 years.

“The factory forces workers to work outside ever since they began to form a labor union to demand their rights,” said Thida Aung

The carpentry factory, which produces furniture such as chairs, tables, cupboards and many other products, has been abusing labor rights for a long time, claim workers. Although some have been employed there for more than a decade, they are still daily-wage workers and receive no benefits.

“The factory has never recognized us as permanent staff even though we have been working here for 12 to 18 years,” said Thida Aung.

More than half of the thousand employees based at the factory are women, yet female workers earn just 2,000 kyat (US $2.30) per day while men earn 2,500-3,000 kyat ($2.90-$3.50). “The payment is the same for everyone even if skills are different,” claim workers.

This is the longest of four strikes that factory staff have undertaken in recent months. In October, around 300 women marched to the Taw Win headquarters in order to talk with the company boss known as Ko Ko Htwe.

Seven worker representatives were given the chance to negotiate while the rest waited outside. But now those seven have been charged with violating section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law. “We have to go to the Sanchaung Township Court to attend trial on Nov. 6,” said Thida Aung.

The workers are being supported by labor activist groups and vowed to strike until they get their demands.