Labor Rights neglected under the coup and revolution

Labor Rights neglected under the coup and revolution
Win War Hlaing injured in the workplace.

September. 11.2023

  “ I do not like this job, it is just to buy daily foods  demanded”  said Win War Hlaing, 26 years old and a mother of a 1st grade student. Her husband works temporarily as a fisherman. He used to work as a daily paid workers in Yangon and fishing in the present since the new job is not available yet. Their village is beside the river near with the entrance of sea in Ayeyarwady region.

Win War Hlaing usually helps her husband fishing the tiny shrimp which would become the lobster later. The entrepreneurs of lobster livestock buy those tiny shrimps, grow them till they have become lobsters and sell them with much higher price in the seafood market. One viss of lobster is above 30,000 kyats in the market.

The fisherman couple has earned 400 kyats for 100 tiny shrimps in their trade with the entrepreneurs of lobster livestock. Win War Hlaing used to work in the industrial field since her late teenager age. She worked for two garment factories in Shwe Phyi Thar industrial zone in Yangon. In 2019, she got an accident in her fingers of right hand while working for HuaSheng factory of GTIG group. Because of the accident, her four fingers except the thumb cannot move well anymore. She was working to produce the products of Primark.

As soon as the accident happened, she was sent to the hospital in InSein Township by the staffs in the factory including the manager. She received the immediate operation in the hospital. The factory manager paid the cost of operation which is also the wage to the medical staffs involved in her operation. InSein hospital is a government hospital and it supports space, fundamental and emergency medical treatment, and some medical stuffs. For the operation, the patients are to pay for the wages of doctors or medical staffs involved in the operation and the medicines are to buy themselves.

Win War Hlaing was to pay for the rest cost of her medical treatment expense in InSein hospital for a whole month. The cost of daily expenses including foods, medicines necessary, foods for her family, and others. Win War Hlaing paid for either her medical treatment expenses or the daily expenses caused by the accident which sent her to the hospital bed instead of her workplace in the factory.

The factory still failed to take responsibility and accountability on its staff and her life changing accident. The factory took over only the cost of her first operation in InSein hospital. ‘ May be, it was also just because the factory officials were there and I was in the operation room and unconscious. So they had no choice to pay for it ‘ claimed Win War Hlaing.

That cost of operation was all with which the factory shows its responsibility and accountability on the accident through working. Beside, the cost of operation covered by the factory is too tiny spot amount for Win War Hlaing’s long rough journey to recover from this accident in both physically and mentally.

After the immediate operation, she received the medical treatment closely in the hospital for a month. Then she was allowed to take off the hospital. Her fingers were to receive followed-up minor medical treatment monthly in InSein Hospital or elsewhere medical treatment service is available. No factory officials appeared near her anymore to show the further accountability on the accident. Win War Hlaing, herself, was the one to pay for not only one-month close treatment in hospital also followed-up treatment monthly for a year.

After a yearlong followed-up monthly treatment, the fingers are getting better rather than the beginning of the accident. But, mainly because of the financial problem, she could not afford well and proper treatment. So her hand cannot fully get recovered as before. She cannot use her fingers normally. The joint of four fingers got wrong place after the emergency operation she received. She has no idea to blame on the medical staffs since she is lack of fully understanding of her fingers’ situation in the medical term.

Within a year, some doctors she met advised her to receive next step operation and some advised her not to take the risk of getting worse by receiving another operation. Among these advices, it is not difficult for Win War Hlaing to decide. “ Even if I would like to receive the operation, I cannot afford it’ said she through a laugh.

Although her fingers cannot move flexibly, they are able to move up and down all together in the same time. Win War Hlaing regularly and monthly have reported the medical leave without salary just to make sure she still has a job in the future. After a year, Win War Hlaing went back to her job in the factory but she was told by the manager that she has been fired because of her absent days.

Win War Hlaing said she thought that the factory employers would not be that lack of sympathy so that she was fired from the factory.  She continued that they have also failed till now to support the medical treatment for her finger. After the acknowledgement of her firing, she went and met with government labor officer in ShwePyiThar township.

Win War Hlaing said that the coup regime labor official she met has recognized the condition of her fingers as a disability listed. This report to the labor office of coup regime helps to get the social warfare support budget as the result of her tax paid from her salary monthly. She received two million Myanmar Kyats as a social warfare support for her accident.

She addressed her financial requirement to treat her fingers without income by taking debt from the unofficial microfinance entrepreneurs near her with high interest for the whole year. Almost of all of the money went to pay her debts she said. “ The debt owners knew quick I got some money ” continued she.

Fortunately, she also got her job back in the factory with the support of labor related activist and labor union members of her factory. The labor union has negotiated between employers and employees. Ko Min Naing, labor union member of Huasheng factory of GTIG group, said that he has to deal with the coup regime and employers when it is to stand for employees on their issues. He continued that it comes difficult because the employers use the legal labor regulations under the coup regime as they wish and it comes worse when the governance legal system has collapsed since after the coup.

The employers have sometime frightened to the employees by saying “report anywhere as you wish” according to Min Naing. Since after the governance legal system has collapsed, it comes difficult for the employees to talk about their right. At least they could be orally insulted within the work and fired according to Min Naing.

All of the labor related organization has been listed in the blacklist of the military regime government. Many staffs from labor related organization and activists were to leave country because of the security issues. The labors left within the country are facing more impressed issues and less help from related development organization.

“ Although it is risky for my security, it cannot deny to deal with the officials under coup regime when it is to address the current labor issues” said Ko Htoo Htoo, an individual labor activist left in the local and still working for the labor activism. He also collaborates with labor unions in the factories.

They have tried to stand beside Win War Hlaing to demand the accountability of the factory and international brand, Primark, for the cost of medical treatment and resilience of her life. But they are still neglected and received no reply yet. In the elected government era, it is available to pressure the factory employers and Primark brand. In the current political situation of Myanmar, it seems that there is no way of demanding and asking for it in effective way.

In 2023 March, the HuaSheng  factory has been closed. Win War Hlaing has become jobless and was to hunt for a job in new factory. A 26 years old and experienced factory worker is denied by every factories she applied for because of her fingers which cannot move flexibly. Without even the hope for a job in Yangon, she did not dare to continue staying there.

“ The living cost is too high for me so I have come back here” she explained. Beside her, the big plastic bowls which are used in selecting the tiny prawn fished by her husband.

The labor union member of HuaSheng factory, Ko Min Naing, and the local labor activists such as Ko Htoo Htoo are still trying to demand the proper responsibility on her medical treatment cost and future resilience, she believes.

But both of the Myanmar country representatives of Primark and the responsible officials from the factory are not still replying to them. In their last meeting in March 2023, with labor union members, factory employers, and country representatives in HuaSheng factory, they demand the proper responsibility on Win War Hlaing’s accident.

The factory representatives and factory employers offered 2 million Myanmar kyats for both her medical treatment and future resilience with title “ Mercy Support Financially”. The offered amount not only is too lower than her real medical treatment cost also does not sound they offered it as taking their accountability. Both Win War Hlaing and the activists have denied the offer and continue demanding the proper compensation.

“ They said financial support in mercy (ကရုဏာကြေး). I was told to decide by myself on it and I refused to accept it” said Win War Hlaing. She has a hope on this compensation fees to restart her career and still believes the labor activists standing with her in Yangon will continue the demanding instead of her. She has a dream to restart her career opening a shop selling general goods in her village when she received the compensation.

In Yangon, Ko Min Naing and Ko Htoo Htoo are left with many labor issues including Win War Hlaing’s case. Although they continue standing with labors to address their issues, it comes difficult for them to pressure the employers to follow and respect the labor rights and human rights since after the coup. The governance system is still collapsing and the employers are taking advantage on it by breaking international labor law one by one. And the interim government in Myanmar spring revolution NUG is also still silent to take action on the violations of labor and human rights of the labors in the industrial zones.