Sri Lankan Technician Accused of Sexual Assault at Myanmar Garment Factory

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 20 November 2019

YANGON—A Sri Lankan man working for a garment company in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township has been accused of sexually assaulting a female factory worker.

Last Friday, the Sri Lankan man, who is a technician for Soung Oo Shwe Nay (Golden Sunshine) Garment Company Limited, allegedly tried to rape a female worker in his office but the victim escaped, according to workers at the factory.

On Tuesday, over 3,000 factory workers launched a protest at the factory calling for the company to fire the alleged offender and to meet 28 demands from the workers concerning labor rights. According to the workers, Soung Oo Shwe Nay (Golden Sunshine) garment factory employs over 4,600 workers.

Immediately after the incident, factory workers called for action to be taken against the Sri Lankan man but factory management and township police initially failed to react, Ma Ei Thingyan, a representative of the workers, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

On Monday, police did come to detain the suspect at the factory after workers reportedly dialed 199 and called the police bureau in Naypyitaw. On Tuesday, the Sri Lankan man returned to work after a case was opened against him at the police station.

Police Captain San Yu from Hlaing Tharyar police station told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the police had filed a lawsuit against the man under Section 354 of the Penal Code, for “assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty.”

”Currently, we have released him on bail,” said the police captain. Because the police officer was on duty away from the police station, he declined to give detailed information regarding the suspect.

Workers at the factory are also calling for the company to address labor rights issues. Their representatives say employees have been forced to work without being given legally mandated leave.

Workers have reportedly had 60,000 kyats (US$39.57) docked from their monthly wages if they take a single day of leave.

Ma Ei Thingyan, the chair of the factory union, said that she has had over 100,000 kyats docked from her wages for missed work. She requested seven days of sick leave following the recommendation of a doctor from the social welfare clinic of the Labor Department.

”Workers have had these grievances for a long time, as there were no leaders among the workers. We also didn’t know how to ask for our labor rights,” said Ma Ei Thingyan.

Workers participating in the protest met with factory management to discuss the workers’ demands on Tuesday and Wednesday but reached no resolution. Civil society organization Action Labor Rights has been supporting the workers regarding legal affairs.

On Wednesday, workers asked the Labor Department of Hlaing Tharyar Township to work with the factories to solve the dispute according to labor laws.

The Irrawaddy reached out to the Soung Oo Shwe Nay (Golden Sunshine) company for comment but received no response.

According to Section 354 of the Penal Code, anyone found guilty under the statute can be sentenced to up to two years in prison, fined, or both. Under the law, police are allowed to grant a suspect bail but the case cannot be settled outside of court, according to lawyer U Maung Maung Soe.