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Labor rights deteriorate in post-coup Burma

Hundreds of thousands of kyats worth of salaries are being withheld by a lending agency on Pyay Nawaday Road in Yangon’s Shwe Pyi Thar Township, according to labor union leaders. The Socio Lite Foundation claims to be a non-profit organization that seeks to alleviate poverty in Burma by providing microfinance loans to disenfranchised women and education opportunities for children.  It operates branches in Hlaing Thar Yar and Pale Myo Thit townships.  

Labor activists state that the owner of Socio Lite Foundation not only withheld salaries but also failed to give overtime pay and neglected the rights of its employees. “The workers are unsatisfied with four points. They have their salary withheld if they do not arrive at work at 8 a.m. and the workers do not get overtime pay for working after 5 p.m. They are also not allowed to take leave. The worst thing was the workers were not allowed to go home even for funerals. They don’t get any kind of leave at all. The workers are forced to work at night as well. Considering K200,000 ($134 USD) [is being withheld] per employee, the total amount withheld for 200 workers is in the hundreds of thousands,” a union representative told DVB. 

The workers refused to speak out about the exploitation as they were afraid of being fired from their jobs. The risk of termination has intimidated workers across Burma from speaking out about labor abuse. Labor rights activists said it is because workers have little knowledge of existing laws. “I found that workers have little interest in labor laws. Labor disputes can be solved if both workers and employers are involved. A labor dispute cannot be solved with only the factory [management]. All problems about leave, paid overtime, and wages can be addressed. The problem is that workers are terrified of getting fired. The job they have is not the only one available and there are many suitable jobs for them depending on their skillset. It will only get worse for them if they are too afraid under these circumstances. Labor rights can be protected if they make demands within the law. They must realize that their rights will slip away if they do not take legal action,” an activist, and former political prisoner, said. 

On Nov. 9, thousands of workers from a factory owned by Emerald Footwear MFG Co. Ltd. in South Dagon Township protested for a minimum daily wage of K8,000 ($3.90 USD) due to the rising prices of basic commodities and other expenses.  The workers also demanded annual and holiday bonuses to be paid, an increase of regular attendance payments from K15,000 ($7.30 USD) to K20,000 ($9.74 USD). Workers demand better working conditions.

The factory owner agreed to all of the workers’ demands with the exception of a daily minimum wage of K8,000. The Chinese-owned Emerald Footwear MFG Co. Ltd. factory has around 1,600 workers and over 1,100 workers took part in the demonstration. A total of 29 workers at Myanmar Paung Chain Footwear factory in Shwe Pyi Tar Township were fired after demonstrating for a minimum daily wage of K8,000 on Sept. 19. In Burma, the daily minimum wage for workers was set at K4,800 ($2.34 USD) in 2018 and is required by law to be revised every two years. The International Labor Organization (ILO) claims labor rights in Burma have been deteriorating since the 2021 coup.

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