More than half of workers in Yangon garment factory laid off ahead of annual holiday period

More than 400 recently hired employees at a garment factory in the Shwe Lin Ban Industrial Zone in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township were reportedly informed last week that they would be laid off when the annual Thingyan holidays commence in mid-April. 

The workers in question at the Chinese-owned Fitex Myanmar garment manufacturer, which employs 700 people to produce clothing for international womenswear brand Amisu, were notified verbally by their supervisors of the loss of their jobs on March 13, representatives at the factory said.

“They only fired the workers who had worked for the company for less than six months. The management-level employees who were here before us were safe,” one of the affected workers told Myanmar Now. “They should have notified us earlier if they had plans to shut down, so that we would have had time to find work at other factories,” she added. 

According to the Federation of General Workers Myanmar, Fitex Myanmar also fired staff en masse before Thingyan last year. Moe Sandar Myint, chairperson of the trade union federation, said that it was difficult to demand severance from the company, whose actions were not technically illegal. 

“They definitely premeditated this,” she said. “They’re only firing the employees with less than six months of working experience there so that they don’t have to pay them compensation.”

Moe Sandar Myint said that the firing of more than half of Fitex Myanmar’s employees would not change the existing orders for apparel taken before the upcoming holidays, and that any gaps would likely be addressed by hiring people at rates which do not include benefits, rather than salaried staff.

“The remaining workers will have to finish that workload,” she explained. “If there aren’t enough workers, they will hire more daily or monthly wage workers after the holidays who they can fire any time they are no longer needed.”

In February, two factories producing clothing for European retailer Primark in the Wartayar Industrial Zone in Shwepyithar Township abruptly announced that the sites would be shut down, leaving some 2,400 workers jobless. A Primark spokesperson was quoted in an industry publication earlier this month saying that the treatment of the employees at the factories in question was “extremely concerning” and that its local team on the ground in Yangon was investigating the issue. 

The Fitex Myanmar employee who spoke to Myanmar Now was among those fired in the Wartayar factory closures, as well.

“Now that the Thingyan holidays are very close, we can’t apply for work anywhere. No factory is hiring right now as they don’t want to pay us for time off for Thingyan,” she explained. 

The holiday period marks the Burmese New Year and lasts several days. 

A report from the Ethical Trading Initiative last September urged brands to reconsider their presence in Myanmar because of the dire situation concerning human rights that has unfolded in the country since the military coup in February 2021. 

The International Labour Organisation announced in January 2022 that more than 1.6 million workers had lost their jobs in Myanmar during this period. 

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