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