Former employees of a South Korean footwear factory said on Thursday that they were coerced into signing predatory agreements relinquishing severance pay.
During a press conference held at the now-defunct Master Sports factory in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone, workers told reporters that the company’s management had negotiated with the employees individually instead of using official channels, which caused confusion about their rights.
“Instead of going through official negotiation channels, and by conducting individual agreements, the factory owners have created confusion among the workers,” said Saw Nanda Aung, an advisor for the Labour Unions Network, which has been assisting the workers with their claims.
“They were promised salaries for June,” he said, “but when they tried to retrieve it there was a lot of disagreement among the workers.”
More than 750 workers were left jobless when the factory abruptly shut down in June. When the workers claimed that they were suddenly dismissed without pay, Burma’s Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Welfare stepped in by writing a letter to the South Korean embassy, which mediated a solution whereby the company agreed to pay the employees their June salaries.
Only 56 of the workers agreed to accept the one-month salary payment; the rest demanded additional compensation.
On 17 July, the workers marched to the South Korean Embassy in Rangoon to demand both their salaries and compensation for dismissal.
Tun Naing, one of the organisers of the demonstration, said that company officials coerced the workers into signing agreements that forbade them from demanding further remittance if they accepted a one-time salary payment. Many of the workers accepted the agreement out of urgent financial need.
Master Sports’ management has to date been unreachable for comment and the South Korean Embassy remains unresponsive to media inquiries on the matter.
The company is now facing a lawsuit levied by Burma’s labour ministry on the grounds that their management violated employment contracts.