Police lurk as Rangoon strike continues

Up to 2,000 factory workers on strike in Rangoon have been told they face possible dismissal if protests over salary and working conditions do not end by the weekend.

The Tai-Yi shoe factory employees have until Sunday to return to work, but a vow to push on until their demands are met has prompted police to block roads leading to the Chinese-owned establishment in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone.

Representatives of the owners say they will not compensate the workers for wages deducted during the five-day Chinese New Year holiday in January, which employees say they were forced to take.

After being told that the factory owners wouldn’t budge on one of their key demands, the strikers yesterday set upon their employers.

“The workers were threatened with dismissal by their employer, who called them ‘dogs that bite the hand that feeds them’,” said Su Su Nway, a prominent Burmese human rights activist who visited the protest.

“They were very disappointed with the threat and began walking out of the factory and also pelted their employer with water bottles. They are rallying in the factory building, demanding [the employers] meet their demands or if not, they will shut down the factory.”

The same factory was rocked by protests in March last year, when workers demanded an increase of their meagre salaries, which saw them being paid just $US0.70 for a 12-hour day.

The Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone in Burma’s commercial capital is no stranger to protests: prior to the March 2011 strike, workers at two other garment factories nearby, the United World factory and Oscar factory, demonstrated against poor working conditions, and netted a result after their employers agreed to improve the workplace.

Su Su Nway said Burma  must move to create stronger labour rights’ organisations, with existing mechanisms inadequate at dealing with complaints. She said many so-called labour watchdogs formed by the government were corrupt.

“It is the duty [of labour organisations] to investigate problems like this, and not just to take bribes from the employers … The workers are on strike now because they couldn’t stand it anymore after so many years, yet they are very much afraid of losing their jobs and facing greater problems.”

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