Rangoon strike ends but unrest prevails

A 1500-strong strike at a major Burmese brewery has ended peacefully but signs remain of a growing unrest among Rangoon workers.

An agreement was reached on Wednesday between employers and workers at the Grand Royal Whisky brewery in Shwe Pyi Thar industrial zone in Rangoon’s Insein township.

Around 1500 workers at the brewery, owned by International Beverages Trading Co., Ltd (IBCT), carried out a sit-in strike on 3 March amid calls for a 20,000 kyat ($US20) wage increase. It follows salary hikes for government workers.

The protestors also called for enactment of other basic rights, such as time off on public holidays and evaluation for permanent employee status based on workers’ performance.

A number of similar strikes broke out in Rangoon factories last month, despite the Burmese junta’s well-earned reputation for harsh crackdowns on perceived dissenters, and enforcement of media blackouts on demonstrations. All however ended peacefully, with employers making some concessions.

The Grand Royal Whisky protest however ended with only minor gains achieved.

“The workers demanded an 1800 kyat ($US1.8) per day wage plus an additional 20,000 kyat ($US20) per month,” said the father of one of the strikers.

“The brewery owners denied the 20,000 kyat monthly pay and instead offered to raise the bonus money rewarded to workers who are never absent from work from 6000 kyat ($US6) to 10,000 kyat ($US10).”

According to the father, employees who have been with the company less than a year receive 1100 kyat ($US1.1) per day, while longer-term employees get 1300 ($US1.3).

“One can’t really count that as a bonus because there is no chance for people who have been absent from work for just one day,” the father said.

The brewery also responded to demands to evaluate permanent employee status for workers who have been in the brewery for two years by saying that it would only consider evaluation for those who have three years’ work experience, he added.

He also said that a female worker at the brewery died recently after she had to come to work despite being in poor health.

Conditions in the IBCT factory are reportedly poor. Female workers tasked with cleaning used bottles were not given sanitary gloves, according to a source close to the workers.

“These bottles had been everywhere – in garbage and on the street side,” he said. “The bottles are being washed with acid, caustic liquid and soap. The workers have to touch these hazardous things with their bare hands and are suffering skin problems.”