Sunday, December 20, 2009
Burmese Workers Protest
Burmese garment workers stage a rare demonstration.
A woman works on her sewing machine at a garment factory in Rangoon, Dec. 1, 2003.
BANGKOK—Burmese authorities sent a large number of security personnel into a western suburb of the former capital, Rangoon, after rare protests by more than 1,000 workers in a dispute with management at a Malaysian-owned garment factory, protesters said.
Workers who took part said deputy labor minister U Tin Tun Aung and deputy military divisional commander Brigadier Kyaw Kyaw Htoon visited the factory, along with northern divisional deputy inspector-general of police Ko Ko Aung.
"Police Inspector-General Khin Zaw Oo from the 7th police battalion came with his troops to maintain security in the area," said one worker, who declined to be named.
"In the end, [management] agreed to our demands. They signed an agreement today that they will accede to our demands."
Another protester said the deputy minister met with factory manager Ma Soe Soe and 28 representatives of the workers and their leader, Ma Khin Thandar Oo.
Workers at the Wong Houng Hand factory say foreign supervisors have been mistreating workers and forcing them to sign "confessions" of alleged wrongdoing.
The workers are demanding a pay raise, living allowance, and transportation provisions.
No comment was immediately available from the factory.
"We have had to complain to [central government] two or three times to resolve our problems," the second worker added.
"But this year when their 12-point demand was not agreed, the workers demonstrated in front of the factory. There were about 1,300 demonstrators."
"They seem to have reached a resolution. There was agreement and an announcement was made at 5 p.m.," he said in an interview.
Response to demands
Tint San, the secretary of the Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone, said this wasn't the first time workers at the factory had staged protests.
"The same thing happened last year," he said.
Tint said he was still unfamiliar with the details of recent events at the factory, whose workers have frequently complained to the U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) about their treatment.
An employee who answered the phone at the ILO office said they had been expecting the workers to come to the office to complain, and that officials from the labor ministry were waiting at the ILO office to meet them.
Meanwhile, Cho Maung, spokesman for the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, said the escalating standoff had drawn concern at the highest levels of government.
"It started on a small scale [on Dec. 15]," he said.
"We have heard that the minister for labor U Tin Tun himself will be going to the site of the factory. What the workers have demanded are the rights...in accordance with the basic law governing labor."
He said he had heard of clashes during the demonstration.
"We heard that there have been some beatings in some places. But we have not heard of any arrests up until now."
He said the Federation would submit the case to the International Labor Union and put pressure on the Labor Ministry in Burma if the dispute remained unresolved.
The garment factory is in the Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone 3 just outside Rangoon, close to the Hlaing Thayar worker township, which was hard hit by devastating Tropical Cyclone Nargis last year.
Original reporting in Burmese by Tin Aung Khine. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Translated by Soe Thinn. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han