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Myanmar Calls on Factory Workers to Cease Strikes

Garment workers in Myanmar’s Yangon region have been striking for more than two weeks demanding better pay, but now the country’s labor ministry is warning workers that they will take action against them if the protests don’t stop.

As many as 4,000 workers collected outside Chinese-owned footwear factory Tai Yee, E-Land Myanmar and Korean-owned Costec, among others, to voice their desire for double overtime pay, raises after one year of employment, better labor conditions and input from labor unions on industrial regulations.

The standoff between strikers and the law grew more tense on Friday when police attempts to disband the sit-in resulted in injuries and the unknown whereabouts of at least 20 workers who were reportedly taken by authorities, according to Voice of America (VOA).

Myanmar’s Ministry of Labor is now putting pressure on the protestors to end their actions as the violence and unrest is, according to the ministry, hurting profits, damaging the country’s image and sending foreign investors fleeing.

But the workers don’t seem to be budging.

“The government is not on our side at all. They only protect the factory owners. No one is on our side except for ordinary people,” 18-year-old striking E-Land worker Moh Moh Lwin told VOA. “Even the local authorities side with the factories. We heard that the factories bribed the local police to attack us.”

VOA reported that E-Land factory reopened its gates on Sunday with a note declaring that salary demands would only be met if the workers returned to their posts, but none showed up.

Workers at Tai Yee, however, agreed to accept a new monthly wage of $50, up from just below $40 and started returning to work Tuesday.

Myanmar’s garment sector employs an estimated 200,000 factory workers who earn an average of 80,000 kyats ($80) a month. The country does not have an established minimum wage, but the government is presently conducting a minimum wage study to gather information on families’ daily expenses, family sizes, regional price indices for basic commodities and income from 108 townships to determine and set the base monthly wage rate.