BWI demands the release of Myanmar Veneer workers

 

On Thursday 19 May, 51 Burmese workers from a wood processing factory were arrested on charges of unlawful assembly and causing public disorder after police prevented them from marching in the Takton township, outside Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw. A week and a half later 36 of the workers were released from Yamathein Correctional Department, while a further 15 remain detained, awaiting a 15 June hearing. 


The dispute has been ongoing since early 2016, with seventy workers of the Myanmar Veneer and Plywood Private Ltd factory in Sagaing staging a sit-in protest at the factory’s entrance on 29 February, and taking further industrial action occurring on 6 April. On 30 April over 100 workers began marching from Sagaing to Naypyidaw in up to 40C heat, seeking government intervention into their wrongful dismissal. 


Workers were dismayed at the refusal of their employer to bargain with them. Having organised to demand overtime pay and improvements in their working conditions, a total of 161 workers workers at Myanmar Veneer have been dismissed from the factory over the previous months. As well as reinstatement and a genuine collective bargaining process, the workers are demanding changes to Myanmar’s employment laws to protect other workers from similar arbitrary dismissals and police harassment. 


Officials from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population met with the workers in late-May but were unable to negotiate an acceptable solution. “We accept the invitation to negotiate”, protest leader Ko Khine Min told the Myanmar Times, “but we will march until our request for better labour laws has been fulfilled.” 


Yesterday, the Building and Wood Workers’ International sent a letter to Myanmar’s Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population, demanding the immediate release of those workers incarcerated for pursuing their rights and for the dispute to be transferred to Myanmar’s labour relations jurisdiction. 


Further, BWI has demanded more rapid changes to Myanmar’s Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law to abolish permission requirements ahead of demonstrations, and to respect Myanmar’s international obligations to protect freedom of assembly and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining. Finally, BWI underscored the importance of having workers and unions involved in the process of reforming Myanmar’s labour laws.