Police, workers in stand-off at Mahabandoola Park
Around 350 workers from Yangon’s industrial zones arrived downtown yesterday to march against recent appointments to the Arbitration Council, but were blocked by police who told them they lacked the necessary permit.
FACTORY workers marching yesterday in protest of the newly appointed members to the Arbitration Council were stopped by police who said they did not have the necessary permission.
The officer told the press that the protesters received permission to use Bo Sein Mann field but instead they tried to use Mahabandoola Park in Yangon’s Kyauktada township. Police stopped the protesters for staging an unsanctioned demonstration.
Some 350 workers, mainly from Shwe Pyi Thar, Shwe Lin Pann, and Hlaing Tharyar factory zones, began marching along Mahabandoola Road from the park of the same name at 1:30pm yesterday, calling for a new Arbitration Council election.
Ma Hla Hla, the lead worker, claimed that she had reached an oral agreement with the township police to start the protest in front of the park. She claimed to have a voice recording of the agreement.
“We cannot trust the new government yet,” she said, after the protesters were stopped by police. “Although things are changing, there are instances in which they cannot be trusted. We cannot have our workers get in trouble so we will back off for now and we will continue to do what we can.”
The township officials told the press that they had never given an oral agreement. The only official permission they gave was documented – permission for a protest at Bo Sein Mann field, they said.
Ma Hla Hla told the press that on July 25 she applied for permission to have a marching protest. The Kyauktada police station responded on July 28, permitting the protest at Bo Sein Mann field. She then made the oral agreement with a police officer, she claims, by explaining that workers would not be able to afford to get to Bo Sein Mann field.
“Since the police were officially stopping the protest, I suggested that the workers should back off,” said senior lawyer U Htay, who is also one of the members of the Arbitration Council. “They can send a letter later if they are not satisfied. I accompanied the workers to help as a legal expert.”
The quasi-legal Arbitration Council acts as a dispute resolution body between employers and their workers. When the first council was created in 2012, most of the labour representatives were from private businesses, a sticking point for labour unions. The 15-member council, which has the final say on disputes that work their way up when decisions by similar local and regional councils are appealed, has five representatives from three sectors: the Ministry of Labour, employers’ organisations, and labour groups. In July, five new members, meant to represent workers, were elected to the council by labour representatives selected by the Ministry of Labour. Many workers cried foul, claiming that the recently appointed members were not democratically elected, although there are no specific rules and regulations for appointing the members.
The council’s term is two years and the current one will expire in September, said lawyer U Htay.
But workers demanded that a voting system for the council be established.
“I only want workers’ representatives who are fair and will help stand up for the interests of us workers,” said Ma Yu Zin Aung, from the Shwe Lin Pann factory zone who joined the protest yesterday.
Police blocked labour protesters trying to march from Mahabandoola Park in Yangon yesterday.