Garment factory workers say repression increased following recent labour strike

Although workers from a garment factory in Yangon’s Mingaladon Township said they were able to secure some concessions after protesting labour conditions last week, repression from employers has also reportedly worsened. 

Some 2,000 employees from the JW factory went on strike on July 7, reporting exploitation regarding their pay and hours. The site is owned by Great Glowing Investment and operated by another factory: ADK, or “A Dream of Kind.” They are both managed by the same Canadian nationals, according to Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration. 

A 25-year-old factory worker who took part in the recent strike said that some of the changes agreed to through negotiations had not been implemented, and that over the past week, restrictions had intensified.

“Their promises are only on paper, and they are not upholding their end of the contract,” she told Myanmar Now. “The rules have grown more strict and they are separating us if they see four or five of us gathering in one place.” 

One of the workers’ complaints was the punitive system of pay, where salaries were docked for not meeting what they described as unrealistic employer expectations, but no bonuses were ever issued for positive contributions or performance. 

The company reportedly agreed to provide a 15,000 kyat (US$8) reward to such employees, but the 25-year-old factory worker alleged that only half of the amount was distributed. Those who received it were photographed and made to sign an acknowledgement indicating that they had accepted the 7,500 kyat. 

“They rudely scolded workers who didn’t want to sign the receipt. They were basically forcing them to sign them,” she explained, adding, “It’s making [the company] look really bad.”

Employers agreed to allow workers, who typically carry out 12-hour shifts starting at 7am six days a week, to sign out at 4pm on Saturdays and for the factory to be closed on Sundays. 

However, other demands, such as addressing insufficient pay and unrealistic garment production quotas, were reportedly not resolved in the negotiations. 

Another woman who works in the factory said that supervisors were paying close attention to workers considered to be politically active, and declared during a meeting that strikes remain illegal under the current administration. 

Workers have also been forbidden from interacting with others outside of their designated work station rows, in what employees say is an effort to stop them from organising another walkout. 

“They’re trying to stop us from going on strike. They even told us to report it to the department heads if somebody invites us to join a protest,” she told Myanmar Now. 

Myanmar Now tried to contact the owner of JW’s operator, the ADK factory, for comment but the calls went unanswered. 

The factories reportedly manufacture clothing for international sportswear brands including Crivit and employ nearly 7,000 people in total.

Widespread factory closures following the February 2021 coup contributed to the loss of jobs of some 1.6m workers nationwide, according to the International Labour Organisation.

Workers from Yangon’s factories were among the first members of the public to protest the coup. Some 16 labour organisations were subsequently outlawed by the junta, and members and leaders of unions charged with incitement.

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