Work­ers de­mand govt end tex­tile feud

The Myanmar Times - - News - KYAW KO KO kyawkoko@mm­

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

Photo: Kyaw Ko Ko

Work­ers from Panda Tex­tile fac­tory protest on Septem­ber 23.

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