Rangoon workers fight for compensation

Garment factory workers in Rangoon laid off after sustaining injuries from a work-related accident have lobbied the opposition National League for Democracy to support them in their quest for compensation.

The 39 men and women were packed into a bus ferrying workers to the Sai Myint Htun Aung factory in Rangoon in August when it collided with a truck carrying sand. Seven people were killed, and the remaining injured.

While the families of those killed received compensation to the tune of 700,000 kyat ($US875), the injured were given nothing. Instead, they claim, the factory employers fired them after they demanded compensation, despite the owner of the truck, Wah Wah Win company, offering them a total of 2.5 million kyat.

A letter of complaint signed by 21 of the workers and sent to the head of Burma’s Labour Administration Department (LAD) on 7 November has so far received no response said Thet Wei, the Rangoon coordinator of a group that helps workers to approach the International Labour Organisation (ILO) regarding labour rights issues.

Moreover, the workers have accused the LAD of siding with the Sai Myint Htun Aung company in ignoring their right to compensation, a claim that the LAD has staunchly denied.

“That’s not true,” a member of staff at the LAD office in Rangoon told DVB. “Currently, [the workers] are still getting medical treatment at the Labour Hospital and we are in the process of contacting the company to negotiate for the [workers]. We are always keeping this in our head and are looking for the best option for them.”

Burma’s parliament in September approved a labour bill that gives the LAD power to protect workers who claim their rights have been violated by employers. Once this has been made official, workers’ groups can be formed.

The introduction of a Labour Organisation Bill in October has given Burmese workers the right to strike for the first time for the first time in half a century, and brought to an end the draconian 1962 Trade Unions Act that effectively banned all trade unions in the country.

The bill also allows for the formation of unions with a minimum size of 30 people, which members can join or leave of their own desire. Workers can legally go on strike and protest for workers’ rights as long as it does not block transport or security infrastructure.

It accompanies parliament’s passing of another bill that gives Burmese the legal right to hold peaceful protests, again for the first time since military rule began in 1962. The bill is yet to receive approval from President Thein Sein, but is widely expected to be signed into law.

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