Nearly 200 workers from a Yangon garment factory have been striking for the past week, demanding their unpaid wages.
The workers, from the Hallmark garment factory, say they were not paid on January 5, the official factory pay day. They also said they were given no notification of why their monthly wages were withheld, and so rolled out the picket line on January 6.
“We are doing what we should do after they did not pay our wages. We are not asking for anything unreasonable,” said Ma Ni Ni Aung, one of the strikers who said she has been employed at the factory for the past five years.
The often turbulent relations between Myanmar garment labourers and factory management have proved a major challenge for the government’s aims to turn the sector into an economic engine and recipient of foreign investment. Myanmar has courted global manufacturers, and attempted to draw investment through keeping wages low and increasingly adhering to international protocols. According to figures from the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, less than half, or 171, of the 400 garment factories are currently foreign owned.
Workers at the locally owned Hallmark factory – which has complied with several international training and inspection programs – brought their wage complaint to the Hlaing Tharyar township factories and general labour laws department. After discussions, the workers agreed to accept a written promise that wages would be paid no later than January 12. But as of yesterday, no payment was forthcoming.
“Factory officials told us they will cut our wages for the days we have been striking. But this strike only happened because they failed to pay our wages on time,” said Ko Tin Win Ko, a protester who added that he has been employed in the factory’s ironing section for four years.
The striking workers yesterday also told The Myanmar Times that factory officials have recently been reducing staff members and selling sewing machines, cars, and other factory materials, although promised the workers that production will continue.
Factory worker Ko Wai Phyo Aung said yesterday that he is being sued by the factory for defamation after he posted a video clip to social media showing dozen of workers crying after they were fired at the end of their probationary period. He said he posted the clip in November in order to solicit help from the Ministry of Labour. He added that he had removed the video, but was later sued under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law. He is awaiting his court hearing, he said.
The striking workers said that pay has historically been an issue at the factory, but is usually sorted out with the intervention of labour officials.
The Myanmar Times tried to meet with the Hallmark factory management yesterday. But upon reaching the factory, the security team informed the reporter that there was no manager or factory director present, and the rest of the management team was too busy with office work to meet.
The Myanmar Times also attempted to call factory director U Moe Pwint, but could not reach him for comment yesterday.
Hallmark garment factory opened in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone six years ago, and currently employs 213 workers, including office staff.