RANGOON — Thousands of Rangoon’s factory workers this week vowed to continue a strike until they receive a pay raise, following warnings from the divisional government not to cause public upset. About 2,000 employees of several factories in Shwepyithar Township began their strike on Feb.2, demanding that their monthly wages be raised from 50,000 kyats (US$50) to 80,000 kyats. Employees of the E-Land garment factory met on Tuesday with Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe for a fourth round of negotiations, but they declined his offer to ensure that the company implements a raise of $12, less than half of the increase employees had demanded. “We want our basic pay to increase by 30,000 kyats,” said striking worker Khin Myo Oo, speaking to The Irrawaddy shortly after the meeting. “They only want to give us 12… We can’t negotiate, so we will continue our strike.” [irrawaddy_gallery id="77779"] On the day of the negotiations, the divisional government issued a public statement declaring that legal action would be taken against employees or employers that “harm peace and rule of law,” specifying that violence and protests that “counter” the law would be punished. The statement said the striking workers were obstructing gates near the factories, preventing those who wanted to go to work from doing so and blocking deliveries. Myo Min Min, an employee at E-Land and the chairman of Shwepyithar Township Garment Workers Union, told The Irrawaddy that they have sought official permission for a protest. Several marches have taken place in the weeks since the strike began, most recently on Monday, though he anticipated that forthcoming demonstrations will be bigger. “We will have a more severe march than the one we did on Feb. 16,” he said, “we applied for permission today.” Workers from at least three garment factories—E-Land, Ford Glory and Costec International—are involved in the Shwepyithar strike, while reports have surfaced of similar strikes in various townships across Rangoon. All three factories have been forced to cease operations since early February. Garment factory workers earn about $50 per month plus overtime pay, Myo Min Min said, adding to up to somewhere between $65 and $100 including stipends for living allowance. Employers deduct $10 if a worker is absent, he added. These estimates align with other reports of average manufacturing wages in Rangoon. A minimum wage law was passed in March 2013, but setting a wage has been deferred because the Ministry of Labor has yet to conclude a study on workforce size, living standards and household expenses, which begin in late January after a two-year delay. The Myanmar Trade Union Federation (MTUF), an influential local labor alliance, independently conducted a similar survey in July 2013, recommending that the national minimum wage be set at 7,000 kyats per day for a household of three people. “If the government can fix a minimum wage, this problem will be solved,” said Myo Myo Aye of the MTUF, remarking on a sudden increase in wage-related strikes throughout Burma’s industrial zones over the past two years. “Until they do that, workers will be demanding higher pay.” At least six large factory strikes are now ongoing in two of outer Rangoon’s industrial zones, totaling about 4,000 employees. Additional reporting contributed by May Sitt Paing.
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