Workers at Yangon Crown steel factory in Rangoon ended their strike yesterday after the factory’s owner agreed to increase the employees’ basic salary.
About 200 workers at the Yangon Crown steel factory in Hmawbi township’s Myaungtagar Industrial Zone have been protesting since 19 May and calling for better pay. After negotiations failed last Friday, 40 of the workers went on a hunger strike.
Yesterday, leaders of the strike met with the factory’s owner at the historic Shwedagon Pagoda, where he claimed to be unaware of the situation at the factory and agreed to meet the employees’ demands.
“We met with him alone without any [negotiators],” said Naw Aung, one of the strike’s leaders who attended the meeting.
“I guess the [hunger strike] was worth it.”
The factory’s owner also pledged to cover hospital expenses for four labourers who are reportedly in poor health after participating in the hunger strike.
“[The factory owner] have ordered to send the four to Asia Royal hospital,” said Naw Aung. “Apart from these four, the rest are in good health.”
Burmese President Thein Sein last year passed into law a bill granting workers freedom to strike and form labour unions, described at the time as a “massive move for the country” by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The bill brought to an end the 1962 Trade Unions Act that effectively banned all trade unions in the country. Burmese workers can now legally go on strike, with the proviso that if they work in the private sector they give three days notice, and if in a public utility, 14 days.
The new law however includes severe penalties for employers who breach its regulations, including a ban on the dismissal of “a worker for his membership in a labour organisation for the exercise of organisational activities or participating in a strike in accordance with the law.”
In the absence of the former draconian statute that banned unions, workers have begun striking across the country for better pay and treatment.
Throughout this month, thousands of workers in Rangoon’s industrial zones continue to strike at factories in Hlaing Tharyar, Shwepyithar, Taikgyi and Hmawbi townships.
Thet Thet Aung, member of the 88 Generation Students activist group, said supervisors and managers at Hlaing Tharyar’s Toe Myint Aung embroidery factory were physically assaulting workers, which lead the employees to strike.
“The situation at Toe Myint Aung was quite bad… they were grabbing women by their waist [during scuffles] causing their longyis to come off, and also [grabbing them by the hair,” said Thet Thet Aung.
Toe Myint Aung employees are demanding a 30,000 Kyat [35 US dollar] basic monthly salary, a guaranteed day off on Sundays and half-day break on Saturdays.
Meanwhile, more than 1,800 labourers at Hi-Mo wig factory in Hlaing Tharyar continue to strike over the unhygienic facilities that the employees say are causing health problems.
While many of these strikes continue, collective action seems to have pushed some owners to the negotiating table. Protests at a South Korean-owned garment factory in Rangoon ended last week after the management agreed to raise the employees’ salary to 28,000 Kyat a month as demanded.
-Naw Noreen contributed additional reporting for this article