Workers Strike for 44th Day at Chinese-Owned Garment Factory

By Nyein Nyein 3 October 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—More than 200 workers from the Fu Yuen garment factory in Yangon Region’s Dagon Seikkan Industrial Zone continued their sit-in strike for a 44th day on Wednesday, vowing to stand firm in their demands for labor rights and the reinstatement of fired colleagues.

The workers walked out of the Chinese-owned factory to protest the dismissal of 30 coworkers, said Ma Thet Htar Swe, a leader of the factory’s labor union who was among the terminated employees.

All of the expelled workers are members of the factory’s labor union. The factory fired them after accusing them of instigating protests to demand better working conditions, and of violating their employment contracts (ECs). On Aug. 14, hundreds of workers staged a protest to demand a number of rights, including that overtime be fair and paid on time, and urging the company to hire enough workers so that their workload would be reasonable.

A week later, on Aug. 20, the 30 workers were terminated. The strike began the following day. The factory’s announcement on Aug. 15 stated that the 30 terminated workers “violated the terms and conditions prescribed in the EC” but added that they had been “compensated.”

The factory also said in a letter that productivity at the plant had declined due to an increase in the workers’ minimum wage in May, while the owners faced greater expenditures. It said, “In the long run, [the factory] will become increasingly unprofitable and it will run at a loss.”

The factory said the workers “do not work in line with the EC. The workers have taken many days off without pay. Some workers are inciting others to protest.”

The factory finally agreed to seven of the workers’ nine demands; however their demand that the fired workers be re-employed has not been settled, said Ma Thet Htar Swe. She started working at the factory a month after it was founded in October 2014, but was targeted for organizing the labor rights movement, she said.

The workers have also sent letters seeking help from the regional and Union governments since Aug. 29, but Ma Thet Htar Swe said they had received no response until a month later.

On Oct. 2, lawmakers representing Dagon Seikkan Township met with the striking workers and company representatives in an effort to settle the dispute, but the talks were unsuccessful.

U Zin Min Tun, a regional lawmaker, said the township authorities and the National League for Democracy’s Labor Affairs Committee “are trying their best to resolve the dispute.” But he added that the labor arbitration court is ultimately responsible for resolving disputes between workers and employers.

“We want our jobs back, as we were expelled for taking part in the labor union and leading the calls for workers’ rights,” Ma Thet Htar Swe told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

She said the workers want the factory to acknowledge their rights, adding that they wouldn’t seek new employment at other factories. She said they “would keep up the protest until all of our demands are reached.”

Fu Yuen garment factory’s products include women’s wear, children’s wear and jackets for export. Their products have been consigned to the Lidl US Trading Company and Joules USA Inc. in the U.S. through Singapore port until August this year.