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Strikes by some 700 workers at two garment factories in Rangoon have met with success after employers agreed to their demands for better working conditions.
Concessions on such a grand scale are rare in Burma: the nine demands issued by staff at the United World factory, including regular bonuses, an on-site medical clinic and sufficient water supplies and toilets, were all agreed to by the factory owners.
Around 500 workers there had gone on strike, while 200 more in the nearby Oscar garment factory also protested at what they claimed were meagre overtime wages. These were also met.
Both factories are located in the Shwepyithar Industrial Zone on the outskirts of Rangoon, one of a number of focal points for Burma’s manufacturing sector.
The dispute was reportedly handled by the Rangoon Division Labour Administration Department and the government’s Work Regulation Inspection department who negotiated with the factory owners.
A year ago a series of workers’ strikes rocked factories in Rangoon, and led to calls for stronger labour union laws in Burma. That may soon be realised, given a recent announcement that a new Trade Union Act has been drafted.
Unions have been legally allowed in Burma, although a clause in the 2008 constitution states that their formation is conditioned on not being “contrary to the laws enacted for [Burma’s] security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquillity, or public order and morality”. The subsequent definitions for these criteria are vague.