Low salaries and poor working conditions have prompted workers for the Thai state-owned PTT energy company to go on strike in Tavoy [Dawei], the southern Burmese town currently being transformed into a massive industrial complex.
Around 60 labourers are dissatisfied at the $US5-a-day wages they are receiving, and complain that other companies involved in the project are paying their employees nearly double that.
Now in its fourth day, the strike threatens to draw further attention to the controversy surrounding the Tavoy venture, which upon completion in 2019 will become Southeast Asia’s largest industrial complex, and threatens to displace up to 30,000 people.
The workers say that on top of the low salary, they are required to work from dawn until dusk and are often denied meal breaks.
“About two weeks before our protest, the company gave us a contract to sign which demands we work 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” said one of the strikers. “There’s no benefit for us in that – only they [PTT] profit.”
He continued that PTT had not responded to a complaint lodged with its socioeconomic department, and 58 people began a strike on Tuesday. That number has now dwindled, but has had a nominal impact: PTT employees on Tuesday “promised a pay rise”, although the worker lamented that nothing had yet happened.
The group had been working on the Kanpauk gas pipeline project, one of a smorgasbord of features being developed for the industrial site, which will house petrochemical plants, steel mills and plastics factories, as well as a giant deep-sea port.
Plans for a 4,000 MW coal-fired power station were scrapped by the Burmese government in a shock move last month that drew the ire of Thailand, which had expected to receive around 3,400 MW of the output.
The project is led by the Thai construction giant Ital-Thai, but draws on migrant labour from across the region. One protestor said the mixture of different nationalities had created friction. “There aren’t enough water purifiers and the Chinese people point at things with their feet and not with a finger,” he said, referring to a practice considered rude in Burma.
The development is rapidly turning this quiet stretch of coastline in Tenasserim division into a vast construction site, with local campaigners fearing substantial environmental damage. But the government has attempted to portray the project as a signifier of its potential to become a key economic and strategic player in the region, given its geographical position as a gateway to ASEAN economies.