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Bangkok factory boss gives in to Burmese workers’ demands

Blue-shirted factory workers present demands to bosses of the Intex motorbike helmet factory in Bangkok on 22 February 2017. (PHOTO: Ye Min)

A factory boss has agreed to compensate Burmese workers at a motorcycle helmet factory in Bangkok after the migrants staged a one-day strike on Wednesday.

Ko Soe, a worker at the Intex motorbike helmet factory in Bangkok’s Bang Khun Thian district, said that Burmese make up about 60 percent of the plant’s 500-strong workforce. However, he claims that as migrant workers they are denied basic labour rights such as holidays and overtime pay.

The discontented employees went on strike on 22 February in a show of solidarity with a colleague who had been sacked on the Friday before, Koe Soe said.

“Last Friday, a small fire broke out at the factory, and the factory managers blamed the Burmese workers. Then they sacked one of our colleagues,” he said, speaking to DVB by phone on Wednesday.

“The fire started in the ventilation vent. The Burmese workers were downstairs at the time so it had nothing to do with them. They even helped put out the fire and managed to prevent a disaster,” he added.

The strikers also demanded basic labour rights. They ended their protest yesterday evening after their employer agreed to meet their demands following a negotiation mediated by Thai and Burmese labour officials, as well as Burmese migrant advocacy groups.

According to Ye Min of the Bangkok-based Aid Alliance Committee for Myanmar Workers (AAC), “The workers called us to the factory so we went there to help. They complained about not getting holidays and having to work overtime for no pay. Also, the factory bosses keep hold of their labour ID cards, and force them to arrange their paperwork and permits via a third party to whom they must pay additional fees.”

Ye Min added, “The Burmese Embassy’s labour attaché, U Moe Aung Khine, was at the negotiation alongside Thai Labour Protection officials. Most of the demands were agreed to.”

Speaking to DVB after the meeting, the Burmese Embassy’s labour attaché said the employer gave in to the demands of the workers, and agreed to return portions of their salary previously kept as an “insurance fee.”

Moe Aung Khine said, “We helped negotiate their demands. The Burmese workers wanted the employer to let them keep their work permit documents and complained about having to work 20 minutes overtime on Saturdays, as well as a lack of health insurance and the prospect of dismissal for taking too many sick days.

“The employer also kept 250 baht (US$7) from each migrant worker’s wages every month, which they said was toward health insurance,” he said. “Now the boss has agreed to return it – 2,000 baht per worker to cover a period of eight months.”