Yangon factory and Adidas supplier sacks nearly 30 workers for striking in demand of wage increase

Twenty-nine workers from a garment factory in Yangon’s Shwepyitha Township were fired after they organised a recent strike, sources from within their labour union told Myanmar Now. 

The walkout at Myanmar Pou Chen began on October 25, with 400 employees demanding a raise from the 4,800-kyat (US$2.27) minimum daily wage to 8,000 kyat ($3.78), as well as to provide local transportation for workers, bonuses for high performance and implement other amendments to factory policy. 

The factory employs some 7,800 workers and is a supplier for global sportswear brand Adidas. 

Officials from Myanmar Pou Chen notified the local military authorities of the protest on the afternoon of the same day it began, prompting the arrival of 10 soldiers and police officers in four army vehicles.

“They warned us not to continue the protest the following day,” a woman who was later fired told Myanmar Now. “They threatened to arrest us if we protested outside the factory area, or if factory equipment was damaged during our protest. They said they had been wanting to detain us for a while.”

The workers continued their strike on October 26 despite the threats, as well as on October 27, by which point more than 2,000 employees had joined. 

One day later, factory officials fired 26 workers, including 16 members of Myanmar Pou Chen’s labour union who were believed to have led the strike. They recorded the three days of protest as unauthorised absences from work, and a violation of their employment contracts. 

“We cannot enter the factory anymore. A team leader went inside to meet the officials, and he was given his salary and a termination letter,” another woman, who was a member of the union, said. “They confiscated his employee card. He didn’t sign the termination agreement or accept the salary.”

“We asked if it was lawful or if they had the right to fire us. They replied they had made a unilateral decision, regardless of whether it was illegal,” she added.

On October 29, three more employees were dismissed—all women—another worker told Myanmar Now.

“They also walked around the factory and yelled into megaphones that further action would be taken against the protesters for damaging the factory. If they saw two workers standing together, they would shoo them away like dogs,” she said. 

The terminated workers filed a complaint with the Department of Labour Relations under the military council’s Ministry of Labour.

Demands to raise the minimum wage at Myanmar Pou Chen were initiated on August 14 to compensate for the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, including food.  

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. 

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. 

Since then, conditions have further deteriorated for workers, particularly those in Myanmar’s many garment factories, according to the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM). The group has accused many companies operating in the country of withholding overtime pay from employees, even as workers are expected to put in longer hours to reach higher production targets.

Employees have also reported being routinely subjected to physical and verbal abuse by their supervisors, the CTUM said. 

The International Labour Organisation said in an August report that Myanmar had shed more than one million jobs over the past two years. 

“The quality of jobs is under serious strain. Labour conditions are tenuous for many workers with severe incursions of labour rights,” it said.

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