In the latest escalation of labor tensions in Burma, around 4,000 factory workers at an industrial estate on the outskirts of Rangoon staged a sit-in on Saturday to demand better pay, according to sources in the area.
Workers at two garment factories in South Dagon Township's No. 2 Industrial Zone began their strike at around 8 am, the sources said.
“When the workers got out of the company bus this morning, they refused to enter the factory compound,” said an eyewitness, adding that riot police arrived at the scene soon after the strike began.
The factories are owned by a company called SGI.
“The factory owner said he would comply with the workers' demands, but he forced them to go home,” said another person who witnessed this latest mass action by Burmese workers.
In recent months, workers employed by factories in Burma's commercial capital have shown growing dissatisfaction with stagnant wages, as inflation continues to erode the value of their earnings, most of which are spent on the purchase of basic commodities.
Meanwhile, there were also reports that several thousand factory workers in Shwepyithar Township, on the western outskirts of Rangoon, also staged a sit-in on Friday to demand higher wages and better working conditions.
Labor Ministry representatives were involved in negotiations between the workers and the factory management, the reports said.
According to a senior official from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), the unrest is related to recent pay hikes for government employees. Public servants' monthly salaries were raised by a flat rate of 20,000 kyat ($20) in January.
The UMFCCI senior official said that the wages of garment factory workers are significantly lower than that of workers in Cambodia and Vietnam.
“The basic monthly salary of workers here is US $30-50, while workers in Cambodia and Vietnam are earning at least $120 a month,” he said.