Workers End Protest After Reaching Agreement with Factory

By Saw Yan Naing & Sanay Lin 23 September 2013

RANGOON — About 100 workers ended their two-day, unauthorized protest at Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda roundabout on Monday afternoon after reaching an agreement with Ho Shin Factory over an improved severance pay. The factory was shut down earlier this month.

“We have been working in this factory for seven years. We will face many problems to survive if we lose our jobs. It is not easy to find a new job,” said Min Min, a worker who leads the protest.

The workers set up an unauthorized protestors’ camp near Sule Pagoda roundabout on Sunday, where they slept overnight. The protest quickly attracted the attention of local media and the Rangoon authorities.

The group of mostly female workers was employed at Ho Shin Factory, a fish processing and packaging facility in Rangoon’s Dagon Seikkan Township. About 200 workers were laid off on Sept. 12 and many felt their dismissal and severance pay offer had been unfair. Some also questioned their employer’s motives for dismissing the workers.

“We are suspicious about the shutdown of the factory. We think they did it intentionally just to fire us. We want to know whether the factory shutdown is temporarily or permanent,” said Min Min.

Ho Shin Factory representatives said the plant had been closed because it was operating at a loss. “We shut down the factory because we were losing 6 million kyat [US$6200] per day,” said U Kaung, a factory director.

“We are going to permanently shut down the factory for sure. We can only pay the workers this compensation sum,” said Nay Htun San, another factory representative.

On Monday afternoon, Rangoon Division Labor Minister Soe Min visited Sule Pagoda roundabout to talk to protestors and to urge employers and workers to reach an agreement.

A few hours later, the sides had agreed on a severance payment, which would provide workers with between two and five months’ worth of pay for their dismissal. Salaries at Ho Shin Factory varied between workers, with some earning as little as $20 per month and others making about $80 per month.

Minister Soe Min said authorities would help the laid-off workers to find new jobs in other factories in the city.

Shortly afterward, the protestors broke up their camp. A police officer at the scene named Myint Aye said authorities would not to take action against the protestors even though they organized the protest without seeking prior government approval.

Burma has no history of industrial relations and labor unions were illegal until President Thein Sein’s reformist government passed a labor organization law in March 2012. The law allows workers the right to free association, creating trade unions and holding strikes.

Labor activists say workers’ rights protection in Burma still remains weak and most factory workers receive low salaries and face poor employment conditions.

Following the labor rights reforms, Burma has seen an increase in workers’ protests for higher salaries and better working conditions.

In February, thousands of workers at the Tai Yi Slipper Company in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township went on strike. At the Yangon Crown Steel Factory in Rangoon Divisionin May, some 45 workers went on hunger strike and about 400 workers staged a walkout.

Again, in May, 2,000 workers at Hi Mo Wig factory went on strike over pay and working conditions. These protests ended when a deal was brokered, though the employers later reneged on their promise of higher wages.