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More than 1,500 workers at a factory in Rangoon have braved the heavy-handed reputation of Burmese authorities to go on strike, demanding an increase to their meagre salary.
The men and women of Taiyi shoe factory, who are now four days into their strike, have cried foul of the unfeasibly low wages which see them earn just $US0.70 for a 12-hour day.
Factory owners yesterday agreed to raise the hourly pay by a fractional 15 kyat ($US0.01), but the strike continues.
“The workers said they wouldn’t start working until they get 75 kyat [$US0.08] per hour,” said a source close to the workers. “The factory sounds the siren [for workers to begin their day] at 7am but instead of going into the factory, the workers are sitting outside continuing the strike.”
Four police vehicles are reportedly stationed at the top of Kanaung Minthargyi Street which leads to the factory in Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone. Civilian vehicles have been blocked from entering the compound.
Strikes by some 700 workers at two garment factories in Rangoon, the United World factory and Oscar factory, last month met with success after employers agreed to their demands for better working conditions.
And just over a year ago a series of workers’ strikes rocked factories in Rangoon, and led to calls for stronger labour union laws in Burma. That may soon be realised, given a recent announcement that a new Trade Union Act has been drafted.
Unions have been legally allowed in Burma, although a clause in the 2008 constitution states that their formation is conditioned on not being “contrary to the laws enacted for [Burma’s] security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquillity, or public order and morality”. The subsequent definitions for these criteria are vague.
More than 30 labour activists, including eight female members of the Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB), are imprisoned in Burma out of a total of more than 2,150 political prisoners. Perceived dissent in Burma is often punished by lengthy jail terms.