Workers from the New Way shoe factory in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone 4 went on a one-day strike on Tuesday to protest failed salary negotiations, according to sources. The strike ended when an agreement was reached with management.
“There were about 500 employees sitting or standing in front of the factory. No violent action took place. It looks like they just didn’t enter the factory compound in protest,” said the owner of a shop near the factory.
A factory staff member told The Irrawaddy that workers staged the protest because negotiations between worker representatives and factory officials regarding a salary increase failed. The negotiations began on March 21, he said.
“Workers were asked to go back home around noon on Monday, much earlier than the end of their work day. I think they talked to each other and agreed to stage a protest at 7:30 a.m. the next morning,” said the factory staff member.
Police and firemen in Hlaing Tharyar reportedly arrived at the protest scene around 8:30 a.m. and blocked Bogyoke street with long bamboo poles in order to prevent people from passing by.
“Chinese officials at the factory do not treat us so badly. But Burmese supervisors are very rude. Even when we are sitting when we don’t have work to do they always berate us for speaking to each other and turning around. They press us more, and that’s why I think the protest broke out,” said a person who used to work at New Way.
A shop owner told The Irrawaddy that she saw a Mazda jeep with a Township Peace and Development Council [TPDC] label enter the factory around 9 a.m. On Tuesday.
“Officials from the TPDC and township labor office came. I don’t know what they were talking about in the factory. After the departure of the TPDC car, the workers went back inside the factory compound,” said the shop owner.
In a new round of negotiations between worker representatives, the head of the New Way factory and township TPDC and labor officials that started at 10 a.m. On Tuesday, factory officials reportedly agreed with the demands of workers, including a monthly salary increase of 6,000 kyat [US $6.80].
A worker who participated in the protest said that apart from the salary increase, factory officials promised to provide workers with clean drinking water and the convenient use of restrooms.
He said officials also pledged to relax other regulations related to work hours, warnings for being late to work, sleeping or eating during work hours, lying down while having no work to do and speaking while working.
Another worker said they all would go back to work on Wednesday as the factory head and other officials made their promises in front of government authorities.
“We will be given salary for March on April 5, so we will definitely know if our salary is increased by 6,000 kyat then. Their promises include an award of 20,000 [US $22.70] kyat to workers who have worked the whole year without absence, but nobody is interested in it,” said a female worker.
New Way is jointly owned by Burmese and Chinese businessmen. There are more than 1,000 employees working in the factory, out of which less than 100 are male. The male employees work as technicians and security guards.