Striking Burmese Workers at Mae Sot Factory Win Concessions

By Nyein Nyein 4 April 2014

Protesting Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot, Thailand, returned to work on Friday at the Yuan Jiao Garment factory after successful negotiations produced a resolution to the labor dispute there on Thursday.

More than 500 workers had staged a more than weeklong strike, demanding a wage increase and other labor rights and benefits, including more time off and a sick leave allowance.

Following protests that began on March 25, the employer warned striking workers to pack their belongings if they did not drop their demands and return to work, saying they would have until April 3 to comply.

But after negotiations between 17 employees’ representatives, factory management and Thai labor protection officials on Thursday afternoon, the bulk of the workers’ demands were met, said Zin Mar Thet, a labor activist of the Mae Sot-based Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association.

Zin Mar Thet said that the striking workers came up short only on the wage issue. Pay will be raised, but not to the level demanded.

“The increased wages are only 15, 17 and 20 baht per day [depending on an employee’s tenure at the company] to their current wage, which is about 175 baht per day,” she explained.

The owner agreed to give the workers Sundays off, and will allow them to take a maximum of 30 days sick leave annually. Overtime pay, which was previously calculated as 10 percent of workers’ daily salary per hour of additional work, will rise to 12.5 percent, Zin Mar Thet said.

Pregnant women will have social and health benefits as stipulated under Thai labor law, she added. Previously, pregnant women were forced to leave the workplace, without pay, until after giving birth, but expecting mothers will now be entitled to 45 days’ paid maternity leave.

The owner also promised to take down notice letters posted in front of the factory threatening to dismiss the protesting workers.

Previously, the migrant workers had no leave allowance and were required to work seven days a week.

“We worked every day from 8 am to 5 pm, and the overtime was until 10 pm to midnight. But we got only one day off per month and could not get sick leave,” said Min Min Htike, a senior employee who has been working at the Yuan Jiao factory for four years. Four years ago, his daily wages was about 65 baht, he said.

Despite the Thai minimum wage being set at 300 baht per day, the garment factory workers have been receiving 175 baht since last year, according to Min Min Htike.

The Thai-owned Yuan Jiao Garment factory, in the Thai border province of Tak, supplies its products to the German clothing company Jack Wolfskin, among others.

Amid news of the workers’ strike and the threatened dismissal, Jack Wolfskin’s UK-based public relations department said it was taking the case “very seriously” in response to a tweet by Andy Hall, an independent labor rights activist helping the Burmese migrant workers.

The German firm tweeted it was investigating the situation and said it would be “unacceptable” if the workers were dismissed for their protest.

Hall told The Irrawaddy on Friday that “the Jack Wolfskin company is sending their consultant to support Thursday’s solution and will arrive to Mae Sot on Sunday.”

“I believe they will really support the workers,” Hall added.

Officially, about 1.7 million Burmese migrant workers are employed in various sectors of the Thai economy including agriculture, garment making, fishing and construction, as well as serving as domestic helpers. But labor right groups have estimated that another 1.3 million workers are undocumented.

At the Yuan Jiao Garment factory, more than 300 laborers are employed without documents, according to the workers.