Friday, 26 December 2014

On garment workers in Hlaing Thar Yar

"Myanmar's garment workers join forces amid lure of city jobs," Reuters, 1 Dec 2014

"The 35-year-old is now an active member of Thone Pan Hla, Myanmar's first female garment factory workers association, sharing her experience with young newcomers from the countryside. Women account for an estimated 90 percent of the 180,000 workers in Myanmar's garment industry, which is expanding again following the easing of international sanctions. Clothing exports are expected to be worth $1.5 billion in 2014. News of job prospects in the city is spreading, and thousands of young women from villages and towns across Myanmar are pouring into city factories for their first ever taste of financial independence. Yet for many of these young women, the transition from life in the village - with parents' strict guidance and financial support - to the city can be fraught with risks and challenges. Young women can easily fall prey to unscrupulous landlords and supervisors, said Helen Gunthorpe, founder of Business Kind, a social enterprise that helped set up Thone Pan Hla in 2011... Thone Pan Hla has no political affiliation and focuses on the welfare of women garment workers. Its 'Sunday Cafe' and temporary dormitory provide a space for women to make friends, learn skills and share tips to help newly-arrived women ease into their new lives... Most garment workers earn about $80 to $120 a month and toil 12 hours a day, six days a week, in Hlaing Thar Yar, a factory town outside the former capital Yangon. The spacious Sunday Cafe - launched in August and open on workers' one day off - offers snacks and tea, a small library with books and magazines, a place to wash and iron clothes and a flat-screen TV showing Hollywood movies and Korean soap operas.
Upstairs, the temporary dormitory for new migrants has space for 18 women. Gunthorpe said that her organization received small grants in 2011 and 2012 that allowed research into the lives of garment workers, leading to the establishment of Thone Pan Hla. "The need was easy to see because there was no organization for women garment workers here in Myanmar at the time," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Thone Pan Hla currently has around 2,000 members, who pay a one-time membership fee of 300 kyats (about 30 cents). Aye Cho Khine is one of a handful of members who turn up for regular meetings at the Sunday Cafe. "We're new so we're still trying to gain momentum," Aye Cho Khine said. "Only time will tell how useful we can be but having a space like this to meet and share will at least broaden the horizon for the newcomers." Myanmar once had a thriving garment industry, employing close to 300,000 people before the United States imposed trade sanctions in July 2003, said Khine Khine Nwe, joint secretary general of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association. "After the sanctions, it went as low as 60,000. Almost half of the factories gradually closed down," she said. With sanctions now suspended or lifted, the garment industry is expected to continue growing. So will the need to support the industry's workers. "A lot of young women spend most of their days in factories, and they don't have the opportunity to meet each other, share ideas and make friends," said Win Yu Khine, 26, who earns $96 a month, sitting with friends at the Sunday Cafe. "This is fun."
Khine Khine Nwe welcomes the idea of the Sunday Cafe but said it should also be open to female employers like herself. "It should be a space for every woman in the industry where once you enter, nobody is an employer or nobody is an employee... a platform to make us feel we're the same."

Strikes and protests in Myanmar

On Myanmar's minimum wage

"As Lawmakers Raise Pay, Minimum Wage Law Languishes," The Irrawaddy, 19 Nov 2014

"Minimum wage talks ongoing," DVB, 23 Dec 2014

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Myanmar workers' struggles (Sept - Oct 2014)

"Myanmar police officers injured freeing hostages in factory rally," 17 Sept. 2014.

"Nine Myanmar police officers were injured as they sought to free officials held hostage by dozens of angry workers demanding wages and compensation after their factory was shuttered, authorities said on Thursday (Sep 18). More than 150 former staff descended on the Master Sport shoe facility on the outskirts of Yangon on Tuesday, demanding payment following the closure of the South Korean-owned factory in June... Kyaw Kyaw Tun, assistant director of the labour ministry's factories department, said five government officials arrived hoping to defuse the situation, but were promptly taken hostage by the workers. "They (workers) said they had been waiting so long and that they wouldn't let them go if they didn't get their salaries by the end of this month. But they didn't harm them," he told AFP."

"Scores injured after police ‘rescue’ official from workers," Myanmar Times, 22 Sept. 2014.

"Clashes between police and angry workers occupying a shoe factory led to nearly 60 casualties on September 16, according to eyewitnesses. The police said they were trying to free members of a government mediation team who apparently feared for their safety while negotiating with the workers.... “The workers were trying to detain the director general inside the factory compound, rejecting the implementing of compensation procedures.”
Police Major Chit Oo insisted that his officers had conducted the raid in line with international standards and training on crowd management supported by the European Union. He said workers had thrown plastic bottles of drinking water and beat the police with bamboo sticks, and the police had defended themselves with their shields. “I was hit with a wooden stick,” he said. “We did not attack the workers. Some workers might have been injured because of broken glass and iron sheets – we were wearing boots, but the workers were not. We were just trying to rescue the director general.”

"After Months, Hundreds of Garment Workers Receive Overdue Pay," 17 Oct. 2014

"Some 750 laid-off workers of the closed down South Korean Master Sports factory in Rangoon received their unpaid salaries and severance pay from the Ministry of Labor on Friday, after it auctioned off the property of the factory last week... Tens of thousands of workers are employed in labor-intensive industries at 14 industrial zones around Burma’s commercial capital. Garment and footwear factories are the biggest industrial employers, with about 100,000 workers total.

Domestic labour and industrialization updates

Updates on domestic labour and industrialization issues:

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Some stats on Myanmar migrant schools in Thailand

"Migrant workers still cheated in Thailand," Myanmar Eleven, 3 September 2014
"...A report by the Myanmar migrant workers' protection committee at the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand last year said there were 147 free schools for migrants in that country. But the number was likely to decrease by 10, due to a general lack of funding... About four million migrant workers from Myanmar work in Thailand. Half of the children of these workers are educated at these schools, which are often not totally free."

Myanmar rank-and-filers seek to oust union boss

An interesting case of rank-and-filers seeking to oust the union boss. ("Theatre workers demand resignation of national association boss," Myanmar Times, 4 September 2014.)
"About 180 theatre workers from upper Myanmar have staged a protest demanding the chair of the Myanmar Theatrical Association, Pantra U Mya Kyi, resign over recent comments in which he said the theatre industry doesn’t support scrapping section 436 of the constitution. Section 436 of the constitution gives the military a veto over constitutional change. A recent National League for Democracy petition calling for section 436 to be removed attracted nearly 5 million signatures, and a parliamentary committee is considering whether to propose a change to the section. The protest, which was held with permission from township authorities, took place in Mandalay’s Chan Aye Thar San township on August 28. “We demonstrated because we can’t accept what he said,” said U Sein Mottar, chair of the Mandalay Region Theatrical Association. “He disgraced the entire society of theatrical performers. We will keep demonstrating until he resigns.” A petition calling for Pantra U Mya Kyi’s resignation was signed by more than 1500 theatre workers from Mandalay, Sagaing and Magwe regions and Kachin, Shan and Kayar states, and then sent to Minister for Culture U Aye Myint Kyu, protest leaders said. “What he said, that the movement to amend section 436 doesn’t relate to theatrical performers, could mislead our audiences,” said U Pout Kyaing, secretary of the Mandalay Region branch of the association. Protest organisers allege that U Mya Kyi also staged a fundraiser without the agreement of regional theatre associations and personally dismissed members of township-level theatre associations. “Our Mandalay Region association didn’t know at all that the central association raised money at the Taungpyone Nat Festival in [Madaya] township,” U Pout Kyaing said. “He ought to shield theatre society if someone else is insulting our performers. But now he has even insulted us,” Ko Win Naung, a drama actor said."