The three statements appeared regarding the protest of garment factory workers against the low salary in Shwepyitha Industrial Zone.
The statements were issued by the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security and the Yangon Region government and Myanmar Garment Entrepreneurs Association.
Yangon Region Government also issued a statement on February 17. On the same day, negotiations were made with the worker protesters. The agreement did not reach but a promise that the problem of the pay low would be settled within three days appeared.
But the government launched a crackdown on the worker protesters on February 20. The problem was not nearer to be solved. The sign of the crackdown on the remaining worker protesters has still been found.
The worker protests of today dated back the 1300 Revolution in 1938. The 1300 Revolution occurred due to the employers treated the workers as slaves.
The protest of the workers in Shwepyithar Industrial Zone aimed at the pay rise. The workers are treated unfairly in their salary. The salary amount of the workers is not much. The salary of the workers was below Ks 100,000 per month. The workers demanded Ks 30,000 should be increased for a month. This increased amount can’t cover the prices of commodities of today. The owners of the factories replied that they could pay only Ks 9,000. The root cause of the problem is that the authority has yet to designate the minimum wage rate till now. The government, the parliament and the concerned ministry did not place emphasis on the problem. The lowest salary rate has not been fixed. The workers were exploited for almost two years after the laws and by-laws had been issued.
Regarding the lowest salary of the workers, the employers agreed to pay Ks 5000 for a worker per day. The workers wanted Ks 7000 per day. The family cost of a basic worker living in Shwepyitha is Ks about 8,000 a day.
But, a basic worker living in Shwepyitha and Hlaingthaya did not earn more than Ks 3000 per day. Although the salary of the basic worker who is nearly 10 years in service is about Ks 150,000, most of the workers are between Ks 40,000 and Ks 80,000.
In comparison with the commodity prices, the salary the employers charge is unreasonable. This salary amount cannot settle the cost of the family for a day. Therefore, the workers staged the protests. On February 24, three statements appeared and the worker protesters were blamed. On the other hand, some media wrote in favour of the employers. The workers were accused of going against the law. Some turned a blind eye to the root cause of the problem.
The three statements are unfair for the workers. Marie Antoinette, the queen of the France (1774-1792), responded to the worker protesters that they should eat cakes if they didn’t have bread. The words of the France queen led to the France Revolution.
The statements said foreign employers felt disappointed at the protests of the workers. They no longer want to run their factories here. The closure of factories will leave many workers unemployed. The workers may have gone into trouble.
The foreign employers said that they would close their factories and then move to other countries. The workers would face unemployment and they would see difficulties in their families.
The departmental officials have already negotiated with the employers. The employers are demanding the government to give them protection in accord with the existing laws, the statements said.
If the factories are closed, the workers will face unemployment first. The foreign investors would not believe the government. Therefore, the government should take measures to avoid the occurrence of similar protests, the statements said.
The statement of Myanmar Garment Entrepreneurs Association said that the rights were given to the workers. They could freely change their jobs. The employers must not stop the workers changing their jobs to others. The employers must not be against the law and they can act within the laws. The employers are not responsible to pay compensation to the worker protesters during the days of protests.
The statements showed favour to the employers turning a blind eye to the negotiation with the workers to meet the needs. The foreign employers came to Myanmar because of cheap labour. They are paying more hiring costs for the factories and lands. These are nothing to do with the workers.
The salary demand of the workers is not much when compared with the countries in the ASEAN region. They are almost the same in the skills. But their salaries are exploited by the employers.
On February 20, Union Minister for Labour, Employment and Social Security Aye Myint stressed the need for local workers to meet the Asean standards if they want to earn in line with the Asean standards. He said so about the European standards.
I do not know about the European standards. But in the Asean community, workers in Myanmar earn the lowest income.
Myanmar workers should not be blamed for a lack of such standards. Tens of thousands of Myanmar engineers in Singapore and those working in Thailand and Malaysia would not have got their jobs, if they do meet the Asean standards. What I mean is that Myanmar people are not that stupid. As they are oppressed in their own country, they also become victims of oppression and exploitation under foreign business owners.
Look at Myanmar citizens working in Asean countries and they are regarded as those who are easy to learn. Training them will not take two months. Tens of thousands of Myanmar engineers are working in Singapore.
There are many brilliant Myanmar medical doctors in the United States and England.
They meet the Asean or international standards and get jobs abroad not because the education system and universities of Myanmar are good. They are in a good position as they are willing and easy to learn.
Don’t look down on your own people in your own country.
It is wrong to blame the local workers for the problems resulting from high commodity prices and meagre wages set by foreigner proprietors.
The minimum wages of manual workers in Myanmar should be more than those of their counterparts in Bangladesh and Cambodia. Anyone does not want to hire Bangladeshi workers whose skills are lower than Myanmar workers. In reality, our country should compete with China, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines in terms of workers’ wages. Myanmar workers can compete with their counterparts from those countries. It is the duty of the Myanmar government to ask international business owners to pay the same wages as those countries’.
Another point is about the foreign investment situation in Myanmar.
According to The Economist magazine, the foreign direct investment (FDI) amount in three years (2010-2013) is the second largest in Asean countries. Above Myanmar is the Philippines. Despite the increased FDI, per capita income has not increased significantly. According to data in 2013, Myanmar’s per capita income is at the second bottom of the list. At the bottom is Cambodia.
It is therefore clear to think who has gained more benefits from the flow of FDI into the country. There are very few benefits for ordinary workers. Studying the consumer price index (CPI), it is worse now than the crisis period around 1988.
Myanmar’s CPI accounted for 184.15 in 1989 and 185.47 in 2014. High commodity prices are a heavy burden to the ordinary people.
It is the main responsibility of the government to find a solution as to why the income of the people has not increased in parallel with the increased FDI.
Saying “Take as you are given. Don’t protest. All will get into trouble if they (foreign investors) withdraw.” is like what Marie Antoinette had said. She said: “Let them eat cake (if there is no bread)”.
Ordinary workers cannot afford to eat cakes.
Over the year since President Thein Sien’s government took office, series of protests staged by farmers, students and workers have occurred across the country. This cannot harm the country’s image.
Among them, workers’ affairs are worsening. Famers may own land. For the cause of students, the problem will be solved if their demands are met. For workers, they have nothing. The situation is worse for daily wage earners.
Crackdowns on such protests without seeking negotiation and arrest and imprisonment of protestors will lead to a loss of the stage image.
It is not cent per cent true that instigators are behind every protest and unrest. It is not strange that people who have no life security and are in shire poverty usually take to the streets in protest against authorities. They are just looking for a saviour.
Such demonstrations occurred in colonial days. The British government used force but had to give in.
Don’t unilaterally accuse the workers from Shwepyitha Industrial Zone of breaking the law to stage their protest in front of a factory.
During the 1300 Revolution, demonstrators showed their opposition by blocking the secretariat office. It was a way of peaceful protest. The British administration cracked down on the protestors and student leader Aung Kyaw was killed. Were the protestors including Aung Kyaw terrorists or instigators? They demanded their rights.
Now, statements have been issued warning against worker protestors who are struggling for their livelihoods. In the order issued by the ministry concerned and the regional government, workers are warned that “they will face action according to the existing laws”.
If the authorities try to ignore workers’ demands and crack down on any protests, it will cause another problem for the country.
What the government should do is to expose authorities and former generals working in league with cronies who gained various opportunities under bureaucratic red tape. There is no way to oppress workers.
The government is held accountable for the ongoing problems that all stem from government red tape and state capitalism.
Former generals and cronies have monopolized industrial zones, factories and other infrastructures across the country under the protection of government red tape. Consequently, bribery and corruption are rife. They rent their property to other local business people at the highest rate in the regional countries.
Then, those business owners exploit ordinary workers to cover their rental charges.
With the passage of time, ordinary workers have become victims of humiliation. They are treated like slaves or animals. Particularly, their wages and salaries are being exploited by their proprietors. And they have suffered from dire poverty.
Unable to buy houses or pay home rentals, they become squatters. Unable to afford food and clothing, they are starving.
They are like those getting thirsty while floating on a raft like the situation that the people including Thakhin Po Hla Gyi faced in the colonial era.
Who gave opportunities to former generals and cronies? Who granted opportunities to commit corruption? Who was responsible for high rental charges of state and private property? Who was to blame for high commodity prices? Who is to blame for exploiting ordinary workers?
Let me be clear. For the authorities who issued the above statements, former generals and crony businessmen, I want them to daringly declare their assets and the amount of money their children are spending.
I will apologise to them for my accusation if they did not receive anything unfair and dare to declare their assets.
The last thing I want to say is that your statements are unfair.