Myanmar garment workers demand sacked colleagues get jobs back


YANGON: Dozens of striking workers from a Chinese-owned garment factory in Myanmar marched to a government compound in the city of Yangon on Monday, demanding to meet the city’s chief minister, as part of efforts to get sacked colleagues reinstated.

Staff from Fu Yuen Ltd factory, on the outskirts of the commercial capital of Yangon, have been demonstrating alongside other labour activists since August, after 30 members of a trade union were fired.

Shouting slogans outside the Yangon regional government compound, about 100 protesters asked to meet Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, a protégé of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kyaw Myo, a labour activist with the All Burma Federation of Trade Unions, told reporters the protesters wanted to discuss their grievance with the minister.

“If we cannot meet him, we’ll set up a protest camp,” he said as workers sat on the pavement nearby.

A representative of Fu Yuen could not be immediately reached for comment.

This month, dozens of workers from Fu Yuen were injured when iron-wielding assailants attacked a crowd gathered outside the factory.

Police blamed the workers for the violence, saying in a statement a fight had broken out after protesters urged employees still working to join them.

Janice Chan, a representative of Fu Yuen, said in an email workers had been hurt while trying to enter the factory and that “gangsters” had thrown stones inside it.

Myanmar’s textile industry is its top export earner after oil and gas, employing more than 450,000 people and generating more than US$2 billion in exports last year.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the sector could soon be at risk as the European Union considers whether to reinstate economic sanctions over the treatment of members of the Rohingya minority, potentially stripping the country of tariff-free access to the trading bloc.

Thet Hter Swe, a worker from the factory, said on Monday the protesters would accept only the reinstatement of the sacked colleagues and could not be bought off with compensation.

“We want to work with dignity, so we only ask to go back to work and to work with full workers’ rights.”

(Reporting by Shoon Naing)

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