Workers demand govt end textile feud
ON September 23, more than 600 workers from the Panda Textile factory staged a demonstration in Paleik, Mandalay Region, demanding the government end a long-running dispute about pay and contracts.
Panda Textile, in Singaing township, has been wracked by demonstrations and strikes since it was privatised under an agreement that required the new management to retain the civil servant workforce, and continue to honour the same contracts as when they were government employees.
Hundreds of workers have been staging a sit-in outside the factory gates since June to protest pay cuts and being forced to work on their days off, in breach of their employment contract.
On September 12, U Khin Maung Cho, Union minister for industry, told the Pyithu Hluttaw that he was prepared to issue an order to settle the dispute. But workers say they have seen no action since the pledge.
“Why haven’t we received any settlement offers so far? Our sit-in has lasted more than 100 days,” said Ma Zar Chi Win, a leader of the protesting workers from Panda Textile. “The minister has not conducted any sort of field observation for the case. And without understanding the situation on the ground, and at the protest camp, he can’t resolve the dispute, I think.”
“What he said [to parliament] made it sound like we, the workers, like to stir up unrest,” she added.
Panda Textile took over the factory from the Ministry of Industry in 2012, paying an annual K360 million (US$296,000). The deal involved the transfer of 1467 staff from government service to the company. In March, the factory notified the Myanmar Investment Commission of a long-term lease that expires in 2043, the minister told the Pyithu Hluttaw during the September 12 session. He added that his ministry will take action against the factory owner for breach of contract.
In June, the Mandalay Region labour ministry also announced that it would sue the factory for amending the contract without prior agreement from the employees, as required under the 2013 Employment and Skills Development Law.
The workers say they have not seen either of threatened lawsuits carried out, however.
The dispute has taken on new importance now that Myanmar has become eligible again for the United States Generalized System of Preferences, opening up new export markets. International investors are increasingly pressing the government about the state of labour unrest and the dispute resolution procedures under the law.
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. At that time, she also disputed the accusation that the factory had breached any contracts.
– Translation by Thiri Min Htun
Workers from Panda Textile factory protest on September 23.