RANGOON — Officials of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and the owners of factories in Rangoon industrial zones have threatened to request the Burmese government to taken action under “The State Emergency Act” against competing factory owners who offer higher wages to attract employees and thereby cause unrest among the workers at the lower-paying factories.
Facing a worker shortage, some industrial zone factories have begun offering better salaries and benefits to attract new workers. This has raised concerns that lower-paid workers at other factories may protest and go on strike.
A source from the UMFCCI, a national non-governmental association which does not have law enforcement powers of its own, told The Irrawaddy: “If the workers from the factories that do not offer the better opportunities see that other workers are being paid more, there might be a protest or demonstration. Then we will take action against the factories which offered better opportunities because they threaten the stability.”
“It doesn’t matter if the workers are protesting only in their factories compound, but if they go on the street it can change to revolution anytime. To prevent this kind of incident, we will take action against the factories offering many opportunities without actually fulfilling their promise,” the UMFCCI source added.
The basic salary for a normal worker starts at 30,000 kyat (US $38) per month, but a worker can earn around 50,000 kyat ($64) by working overtime. This is not enough for a worker with a family.
According to an instruction from the Ministry of Labor, the authorities have begun forming committees to supervise workers in order to reduce the amount of protests and demonstrations, and the ministry will not allow the formation of a labor union, said a source from the Ministry of Labor in Naypyidaw.
“The ministry will stand for the workers, so they don’t need a labor union,” said an official from the Ministry of Labor. “If they get a chance to form a labor union, it can be a group which can destroy the stability of the country. That’s why we will not allow forming a union.”
The official said that if the workers protest on the streets, the central government will order an immediate crackdown in cooperation with the police, army, township administration and local authorities.
“The protests of the workers can spread easily and quickly and are very difficult to handle. The opposition groups also want to use the workers’ protest as an aspect of a mass movement, like in the Middle Eastern countries.
Therefore, the local authorities are keeping watch on the basic level workers.”
About 200,000 workers are working in more than 4,000 factories in Rangoon, according to UMFCCI data.