Workers at the Taiyi shoe factory in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone organised a sit-in on 18 February, demanding better pay.
The move came a day after the government of Rangoon Division issued an official warning against workers’ strikes.
The statement threatened legal proceedings against those striking, at a time when industrial action is gaining traction in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar and Shwepyithar Special industrial zones, as workers demand better work conditions and pay.
The workers of the shoe factory have a history of labour-based protest. In 2011, more than 1,500 employees went on strike to demand an increase in their salary of just US$0.70 per 12-hour day.
In March 2012, 2,000 Taiyi factory workers halted work in protest at low salaries and wages deducted during the five-day Chinese New Year holiday in January, which employees say they were forced to take against their will. They were also demanding a pay rise of 100 kyat, or US$0.10.*
Burmese President Thein Sein passed into law a bill granting workers freedom to strike and to form labour unions in 2011, described at the time as a “massive move for the country” by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The bill brought to an end the draconian 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.
*Original version of this report incorrectly converted 100 kyat as $0.01.