Steel Workers Go on Hunger Strike

By Nyein Nyein 25 May 2012

Around 25 workers at a Chinese-owned steel factory in Rangoon Division announced on Friday that they will begin a hunger strike in response to the company’s refusal to raise wages.

The workers are among a group of 400 who have been on strike at the Yangon Crown Steel Factory in Hmawbi, Rangoon Division, since May 20. The factory is located in the Myantakar Industrial Zone.

“Twenty-five striking workers announced at 9 o’clock this morning that they will go on a hunger strike,” said Zaw Htet, a technician who has worked at the factory for two years. “The rest of us will continue our strike as before,” he added.

According to the workers, no negotiations have been held with the company’s management since the walkout began nearly a week ago. The workers said that students and labor activists have been giving them food since the strike began.

The workers earn a basic wage of 160 kyat (less than US $0.20) a day. Monthly incomes, including overtime pay and various allowances, range from 4,500 to 10,000 kyat ($5.35 to $12), which the workers want increased to 40,000 kyat ($48) a month.

Meanwhile, strikes at factories in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone continue weeks after workers first walked off the job.

“Today, workers at nine factories continued their strikes,” U Htay, a lawyer who is acting a legal consultant to the striking workers, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

He added that a total of more than 7,000 workers from these factories are on strike.

One problem facing the workers is a shortage of food, which is normally supplied by employers to supplement wages that in many cases are not enough to meet basic needs.

“Even though we haven’t eaten since yesterday morning, we will not end our strike,” said Thida Htun, a worker at the Hi Mo High Art wig factory, where 1,950 workers have been on strike since May 9.

Workers at the factory allege that Korean managers at the factory were abusive to their Burmese staff, in some cases physically assaulting female workers.

Although the factory’s management and workers reached an agreement to end the strike earlier this month after labor officials became involved in negotiations, the company’s owners have since refused to pay the agreed-to wage increase.

Workers at the factory say that in addition to a lack of food, they haven’t had water or electricity in their dormitories since yesterday.

“Today the workers are tired and hungry, but we have some food that was donated to us,” said Thidar Htun.