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.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SHOON NAING news­room@mm­times.com

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.

PHOTO: NAING WYNN HTOON

Photo: Nyan Zay Htet

Po­lice blocked labour protesters try­ing to march from Ma­ha­ban­doola Park in Yan­gon yes­ter­day.

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