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More than 1,000 workers at the Han Jen garment factory in Rangoon’s Shwepyithar Industrial Zone-1 are mounting a hunger strike in demand of basic workers’ rights.
The workers began the factory protest on 18 September demanding: the reintroduction of their additional allowances after the government adopted the 3,600 kyat (US$1.30) minimum wage [assumed to be over-time, and transport and meal stipends]; the reinstatement of sacked factory labour union leaders; and that company bosses to stop forcing workers to sign blank papers.
The hunger strike began on 5 October; more than 1,000 of the 1,057 participants are women.
Kyaw Myint, a labour union leader at the factory, said so far they had no received no support from officials.
“The protest has been going on for a while and to date no organisations have helped us negotiate our demands, and the talks at the Shwepyithar labour office did not go well,” he said. “We wanted to get the attention of senior government officials in Naypyidaw, which is why we are staging a hunger strike.
“Many of our workers couldn’t make it here because they have no money for transportation … and the factory operators haven’t yet spoken to us,” he said.
Sandar Aung, one of the workers in the strike, told DVB she was concerned for the strikers’ health.
“There’s been abrupt rain and sun lately and it is no good for the health of the strikers – most of whom are women. We’ve had people falling ill, and as they are in financial hardship and have no money to seek medical care, they have to rely on traditional medicine,” she said.
The on-strike Han Jen employees sent a formal letter of complaint to a special Ministry of Labour tribunal, and say they are expecting a reply within a day. But when contacted, Zaw Aye Maung, a Rangoon Division labour minister, denied the hunger strike was ongoing, saying the dispute had been resolved.
“As far as I know, the issues at Han Jen have been resolved following successful negotiations assisted by mediation groups – the ongoing strike is just a rumour and is not really taking place. People are just making wild guesses after seeing workers gathering outside the factory when they show up for work. There is a group of people who want to see the protests really happen – they make a living out of creating unrest and it is their doing,” he said.