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BURMA – 3,600 workers stand up for their rights

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organisations/groups have sent a letter to the ASEAN and Heads of
Government of ASEAN countries, calling on them to pay attention to the
struggle of factory workers in Burma.
(Source: 22 February 2010, Prachatai)
organisations/groups have sent a letter to the ASEAN and Heads of
Government of ASEAN countries, calling on them to pay attention to the
struggle of factory workers in Burma.

On 8/2/2010, about 3,600 factory workers, mostly women, from 3
factories in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone in Rangoon, Burma,
protested against low wages and the substandard working conditions they
are forced to endure in the factories.

It was reported that the workers at the Taiyee shoe factory and the
Opal 2 garment factory began protests on 8 Feb calling for higher daily
wages, overtime payments and several other demands. On Tuesday, workers
from the Kya Lay garment factory joined the strike action. 
The workers, mostly women, staged protests outside the factories and
inside a factory compound, where they sat down and refused to work. The
three factories employ a total of about 3,600 workers. 

The monthly income of most factory workers in Burma is very low,
ranging from 20,000 kyat [USD20] to 40,000 kyat [USD40], thus forcing
many workers to work overtime. Most workers work from 7 am to 11 pm
daily. Many factory owners employ temporary workers who have no legal
recourse if they are fired without compensation, according to former
factory workers in Rangoon. More than 80 percent of factory workers in
Rangoon work on a day-to-day basis. Most are young women between 15 and
27 years of age who come from the countryside in search of a better

The workers' demands in these actions, for example, with regard to
wages, as was reported, are for a mere USD10 increase per month. 

The Burmese government's response to this legitimate industrial
action by workers was excessive and oppressive. It was reported that,
the "…Authorities used barbed wire barricades to block roads leading
the factories in the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone in the city's
north-east, and more than 50 truckloads of riot police carrying batons
and shields were deployed and at least six fire engines and five prison
vans were parked near the factories…"

On 19 Feb, although the
workers are back in the factories, they
continue demanding for their rights. In Burma, they are even more
vulnerable and powerless without a change in the existing laws to allow
the right to assembly and to allow workers the right to form unions.

Burma is a member of ASEAN, and as such we call upon ASEAN and all
ASEAN member countries to do the needful to ensure that workers in
Burma, just like other workers in other ASEAN countries, also receive
just wages, have a safe and healthy working environment, enjoy the
right to form unions and all other universally acknowledged worker and
human rights.
We also call on ASEAN, and ASEAN member countries to closely monitor
the current situation at the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone, and ensure
that these workers rights are recognized and respected, and that the
Burmese government refrains from further interfering in this pursuit of
rights by workers in Burma.  

Further, on 23 October 2009, the Heads of State/Government of ASEAN
presided over the Inaugural Ceremony of the ASEAN Intergovernmental
Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), during which they also announced
the "Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Inauguration of the AICHR" to
pledge full support to this new ASEAN body and emphasize their
commitment to further develop cooperation to promote and protect human
rights in the region. 

Noting that the primary purpose of the AICHR is to promote and
protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN,
we hope that the AICHR will begin proving that it is not merely a
toothless tiger by ensuring that the human rights of these workers in
Burma are promoted and protected. 

Many ASEAN member countries, like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand,
invest significantly in Burma. We hope that these economic and other
self-interest considerations will not affect the way ASEAN, and its
member nations, response to human rights violations of the ordinary
people and workers in ASEAN.