Strikers demand Yangon chief meeting 

Burmese workers at a Chinese-owned clothing factory in Myanmar have marched on regional government buildings in Yangon, demanding a meeting with the former capital’s chief minister as they try to get sacked staff reinstated.

Employees from the Fu Yuen Ltd factory on the fringe of Yangon, which has produced clothing for German supermarket chain Lidl and UK fashion brand Joules, have been demonstrating with other labour activists since August after 30 trade union members were fired.

The factory employs around 1,200 women and 100 men, according to the police.

About 100 predominantly female protesters asked to meet Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, a protégé of embattled State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. Her National League for Democracy won control of Yangon in the 2015 election. 

Worker Thet Hter Swe said only the reinstatement of the sacked staff would be accepted and they would not be satisfied with compensation.

“We want to work with dignity, so we only ask to go back to work and to work with full workers’ rights,” the protester said. 

Kyaw Myo, an activist with the All Burma Federation of Trade Unions, said: “If we cannot meet him, we’ll set up a protest camp.”

Earlier this month, Fu Yuen staff were injured when men armed with wooden sticks and metal bars attacked protesters outside the factory.

Hospital staff said 24 protesters were admitted for treatment, including six in-patients.

Workers said about 20 to 30 men in civilian clothing rounded on the crowd of mostly young women gathered outside the factory gates in the early hours of Monday.

Police blamed the striking workers for the violence, claiming they had urged staff who were still working to join the strike.

Janice Chan of Fu Yuen said staff had been hurt while trying to enter the factory and that “gangsters” had thrown stones. 

The textile sector is Myanmar’s second-largest export earner after oil and gas, employing more than 450,000 staff and earning more than US$2 billion in exports in 2017.

Around 80 per cent of the industry’s more than 400,000 workers are female.

Textile jobs are currently in peril as the European Union considers whether to reinstate economic sanctions over the massacre, mass rape and expulsion of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. The European move could remove tariff-free access to the trading bloc.


Outside the regional government headquarters in Yangon. Picture credit: Asean Economist