Workers Say Myanmar Factory Closure Suspicious, Demand Jobs Back

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 8 October 2019

YANGON—A group of about 30 people, including striking factory workers, their family members and other supporters, have been protesting outside the Chinese-owned Sky Man steel factory in the Myaungdaka Industrial Zone in Yangon Region’s Hmawbi Township since Oct. 1, demanding the workers be reinstated after the factory abruptly announced its closure.

The Sky Man steel factory announced its closure on Sept. 19, promising to compensate its workers in accordance with Myanmar’s labor laws, which require that payment be made within five days of the closure.

When they announced the closure, the owners said they had to cease operations permanently due to serious financial problems, partly caused by higher electricity tariffs.

They also cited an inability to establish good discipline among workers or to reach agreements on labor issues with employees.

In August, a labor dispute arose between the employees and management after some workers were suspended from work for a week after refusing to work on Eid ul-Alha Day on Aug. 12, a public holiday.

Workers later demanded the factory pay them a year’s worth of unpaid daily overtime and holiday pay.

After mediation by labor officials, the factory agreed on Sept. 13 to pay the workers a total of 35 million kyats (US$22,839.42) compensation for unpaid wages for overtime and public holidays.

Under the agreement, each worker was to be paid over 1 million kyats each in compensation for six months’ worth of unpaid wages, in accordance with the labor law, but the workers agreed to accept 400,000 kyats each in order to ensure that they could continue working and build long-term relationships with the factory.

In the last week of September, after the factory had announced its closure plan, 94 out of a total of 104 factory workers agreed to accept compensation, but 10 workers and their family members who refused to accept the deal have since Oct. 1 been camped outside the factory demanding to be rehired by the owner, according to one of the striking workers, Ko Min Hein Khant.

The workers doubt the owners’ motive for the sudden closure, saying they want to restart the factory’s operations with fresh workers to avoid paying compensation to the workers, and because the workers were planning to organize a union, said Ko Min Hein Khant, who was appointed chairman of the union.

”We will strike until our demands have been met,” Ko Min Hein Khant told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Strikers have demanded that they be rehired by the factory when it resumes operations and that they and their family members be allowed to keep living in the factory’s residential quarters.

Ko Mein Hein Khant said the factory is being upgraded with new machinery that will allow it to process raw materials and manufacture finished products when it resumes operations.

The striking workers have also demanded that the factory adhere to the labor laws when it hires them back.

They have asked the township labor dispute arbitration committee to mediate their dispute with the factory’s management team.

The Irrawaddy couldn’t reach the factory’s HR manager for comment on Tuesday.

U Ye Lin Htet, director of the Hmawbi Township Labor Administration Department, said the factory closure was conducted in line with the country’s labor laws, as the workers were compensated.

The factory would need official permission to resume operations, he said.