Fired Myanmar workers reject ‘unfair’ employment offer from Adidas shoe factory 

Officials at a sportswear factory in Yangon’s Shwepyitha Township asked more than 20 employees to return to work in late December after they were fired two months earlier for organising and participating in a strike, sources within the labour force said. 

Monday marked the deadline for the workers to sign a new employment contract with the site, Myanmar Pou Chen, which manufactures shoes for the global brand Adidas. The employees told Myanmar Now that they rejected the terms of the offer as “unfair and one-sided,” because it required them to give up previous demands for improved labour conditions and required them to refrain from engaging in future protest. 

More than 2,000 of Myanmar Pou Chen’s 7,800 workers went on strike during a three-day period in late October last year, calling for amendments to factory regulations. They asked that the minimum daily wage be increased from 4,800 kyat (US$2.27) to 8,000 kyat ($3.78) to accommodate skyrocketing food prices such as the doubling of the cost of rice.

Their demands were ignored, and the strike ended with the firing of 26 workers, including 16 members of the factory’s labour union who were believed to have led the strike.

Myanmar Pou Chen labour union chair Phyo Thida Win, who was among the dismissed workers, said that the offer of re-employment did not accommodate the workers’ initial demands for paid overtime, guaranteed days off, and manageable production targets. Officials instead reportedly only offered to compensate the employees for the period in which they were laid off. 

“We were asked to sign a contract that said we were satisfied and would not negotiate further. We cannot accept that,” he told Myanmar Now. “They did not accept any of the terms we proposed. It seemed like we were being made to simply accept their conditions, so I didn’t sign and I left.”

He was among 17 employees who refused the offer; the remaining nine accepted the compensation before then resigning. With negotiations having effectively failed with the factory officials, the workers said that they would next relay their demands to Adidas. 

Phyo Thida Win added that the officials in question had also refused to allow the union to join a Work Coordination Committee (WCC), problem-solving mechanisms which in theory must have equal representation between employees and employers but have been described by union leaders as “notorious for working in favour of the employer.” The junta requires complaints to be filed with WCCs before the issues can be considered by the regime labour ministry.

Shortly after the February 2021 military coup, which was widely protested by the labour movement, the junta declared trade unions and workers’ rights organisations to be illegal. Factory employees began forming WCCs, however, labour rights activists noted that the members selected to represent the workers typically were those who had positive relations with the employers, rather than those with a background in advocacy. At Myanmar Pou Chen, for example, union members were barred from entering the selection pool of candidates to serve on the committee, Phyo Thida Win said. 

Factory officials did not respond to Myanmar Now’s requests for comment on the negotiations with the employees in question. 

Demands to raise the minimum wage at Myanmar Pou Chen were initiated on August 14 to compensate for the soaring of basic commodities in the aftermath of the February 2021 coup. Workers at factories throughout Yangon have also reported an uptick in verbal and physical abuse by their supervisors during this time, and the termination of social security benefits. 

In 2015, under the government led by former general Thein Sein, the minimum wage was set at 3,600 kyat for an eight-hour work day, then valued at approximately $2.70. The minimum wage was raised to 4,800 kyat in 2018 under Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government, worth around $3.60 at that time. 

Laws dictate that Myanmar’s daily minimum wage should be reviewed every two years, but at the time of reporting, the current rates had not changed in nearly five years. Although the military has been amending and abolishing a range of laws since their seizure of power, they have not made changes to statutes concerning minimum wage.

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