Govt to in­ter­vene in Panda tex­tile row

The Myanmar Times - - News - HTOO THANT thanhtoo@mm­

THE in­dus­try min­is­ter is to step into a long-run­ning dis­pute in­volv­ing Panda Tex­tile Fac­tory, whose work­ers say man­age­ment has bro­ken an agree­ment on pay and labour con­di­tions. The man­age­ment has de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tion.

U Khin Maung Cho, Union min­is­ter for in­dus­try, told the Pyithu Hlut­taw on Septem­ber 12 that he was pre­pared to is­sue an or­der to set­tle the is­sue.

Panda Tex­tile, in Man­dalay Re­gion’s Sin­gaing town­ship, has been wracked by demon­stra­tions and strikes since it was pri­va­tised un­der an agree­ment that re­quired the new man­age­ment to re­tain its work­force, treat­ing them as gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees.

More than 200 work­ers have been stag­ing a sit-in out­side the fac­tory gates since June to protest against hav­ing their pay cut and be­ing forced to work on their days off, in breach of their em­ploy­ment con­tract. Ef­forts by labour of­fi­cials and calls for more pa­tience pend­ing res­o­lu­tion of the dis­pute have so far yielded no re­sult.

Lo­cal MP Daw Kyi Moh Moh Lwin (NLD; Sin­gaing) said the dis­pute had dragged on for three years de­spite the in­volve­ment of labour of­fi­cials in the ne­go­ti­a­tions. “The orig­i­nal con­tracts were amended. Work­ers who don’t come in on week­ends have their pay cut,” she said. “The dis­pute is hav­ing a se­ri­ous ef­fect on the health of more than 600 work­ers and their 3000 de­pen­dents.”

In­dus­try Min­is­ter U Khin Maung Cho told MPs that the work­ers were strik­ing in sup­port of their claim un­der the orig­i­nal con­tract.

“They want their full en­ti­tle­ment as civil ser­vants, as they were [be­fore the fac­tory was pri­va­tised],” he said, adding that the man­age­ment was wor­ried about re­la­tions be­tween the strik­ing work­ers and those who con­tin­ued to clock in.

The dis­pute has taken on new im­por­tance with the prospect that Myan­mar might be ad­mit­ted to the United States Gen­er­al­ized Sys­tem of Pref­er­ences, open­ing up new ex­port mar­kets. In­ter­na­tional in­vestors are start­ing to ask the gov­ern­ment about the state of labour un­rest in the coun­try and dis­pute res­o­lu­tion pro­ce­dures un­der the law, the Union min­is­ter said.

“In­vestors are in­ter­ested in do­ing business in Myan­mar and are com­ing to ob­serve the sit­u­a­tion here. Mean­while, dis­putes be­tween work­ers and em­ploy­ers are be­ing ac­cepted as nor­mal. But this is a chal­lenge for the coun­try and the gov­ern­ment,” he said. The min­is­ter added that the dis­pute would be set­tled un­der the terms of the em­ploy­ment con­tract signed in March last year, the Set­tle­ment of Labour Dis­putes Law and re­lated leg­is­la­tion.

Panda Tex­tile took over the fac­tory from the Min­istry of In­dus­try in 2012, pay­ing an an­nual K360 mil­lion (US$296,000) for a long-term lease that ex­pires in 2043. The deal in­volved the trans­fer of 1467 staff from gov­ern­ment ser­vice to the com­pany.

In June, the Man­dalay Re­gion labour min­istry an­nounced that it would sue the fac­tory for breach of con­tract un­der the 2013 Em­ploy­ment and Skills De­vel­op­ment Law. “The amend­ment of the con­tract was one-sided, from the em­ployer’s side. A con­tract can be amended or can­celled, but agree­ment is needed from both sides un­der the law. I have sub­mit­ted the case to the judge, who will de­cide whether it’s a breach of con­tract or not,” said U Min Min, deputy direc­tor of the Depart­ment of Labour.

Panda Tex­tile had an­nounced in March that it would adopt a 44-hour work week with eight-hour days in ac­cor­dance with the 1951 Fac­to­ries Act, ac­cord­ing to gen­eral man­ager Daw Tin Tin Shwe. She said at that time that the fac­tory would ac­cept the court’s de­ci­sion, but dis­puted the ac­cu­sa­tion that the fac­tory had breached the con­tract.

– Trans­la­tion by Thiri Min Htun

Photo: Pyae Thet Phyo

A Panda Tex­tile Fac­tory em­ployee in Sin­gaing town­ship, Man­dalay Re­gion, is de­tained out­side a protest against the fac­tory’s man­age­ment.

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