Striking Workers Say Chinese Businessman Attacked Them With His Car

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 4 October 2019

YANGON—Striking workers at a garment factory in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township will sue a Chinese visitor to the factory who they claim tried to hit them with his car and also attempted to beat a female worker with a wooden stick.

The conflict between the man and the striking employees of the Unitedtex Overseas Garment Co. factory occurred on Oct. 1 at the entrance to the factory while the striking workers were picketing the site.

On Wednesday, the workers uploaded a video clip showing them searching a car driven by the Chinese man after he was accused of attempting to hit the strikers with his car, and of attacking one of the striking laborers with a stick.

The video clip, which was seen by The Irrawaddy, shows the workers finding the wooden stick in the car. It also shows them demanding an apology from the man, who denies their allegations through a Chinese-language interpreter.

”The Chinese man speedily drove his car into the striking workers at the factory entrance, as he was angry that the workers he recruited for the factory were sent back to him [due to the strike],” Ko Aung Ko Ko Zaw, the chairman of the factory’s labor union, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

He added that about five workers recruited by the Chinese man had been turned away by the factory due to the strike.

According to workers and the factory’s management team, the Chinese man supplies labor to the factory.

Ko Wai Linn, a labor activist from the group Action Labor Rights (ALR), which is providing legal aid to workers involved in the labor dispute at the factory, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the group plans to sue the Chinese man at the township police station under both the Immigration Law and the relevant criminal laws for attempting to harm the striking workers.

The factory’s human resources manager, U Maung Maung Lwin, said the incident was the result of a misunderstanding. He said that when the Chinese man saw the workers, he grabbed a spanner fearing that they sought to rob him, adding that the man was carrying many hundreds of thousands kyats in the car.

The striking workers have issued 17 demands, including that their labor rights be respected, to be paid allowances, improved factory facilities and to be paid an additional 10,000 kyats (US$6.50) for not taking leave during a month.

They also asked their employer not to cut their wages for taking leave (casual or annual leave), as required in the Labor Law, and to allow the workers to take leave calculated according to their length of service, again in accordance with the law.

Workers have also demanded factory officials not allow foreign technicians to directly supervise them, and that the technicians respect and obey Myanmar’s laws and traditions.

They have also demanded that all new workers at the factory be paid the minimum wage of 4,800 kyats a day, and that those workers who suffer a death in the family be given a week’s paid leave. They also want management to arrange sufficient ferries for all the workers to get to the factory.

Factory workers launched a 24-hour strike on Sept. 26 after their efforts to have the dispute resolved by the local arbitration body in Hlaing Tharyar Township failed.

”According to the law, every worker has the right to make demands. But not every demand can be met. We must meet those demands that are in line with the law. Employers also have the right to consider whether [workers’] demands are lawful,” said U Maung Maung Lwin.

A number of the issues between the workers and the factory remain unresolved.

The labor dispute is scheduled to be reviewed by the township’s labor dispute arbitration body on Monday.

Nearly 400 of over 600 factory workers have been striking outside the factory.

The Chinese-owned Unitedtex Overseas Garment Co. factory opened in Zone (1) of Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone five years ago. It produces garments for UK brands including Next and Matalan.