Lockdown extension leaves Yangon factory workers broke, facing eviction: Myanmar Labor Groups

Garment manufacturers at a factory in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Times. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

YANGON, Oct 7, 2020, The Irrawaddy. Factory workers in Yangon are facing serious financial hardship, as they have not received their salaries since the government extended the COVID-19 lockdown, according to labor organizations, The Irrawaddy reported.

Factories in the commercial capital have been closed since Sept. 21 under a lockdown imposed by the Ministry of Health and Sports in a bid to curb the spike in COVID-19 cases. As a result, numerous workers have completely run out of money and are facing considerable hardship, the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM) said in a statement on Tuesday.

The CTUM asked the government to enable workers to withdraw their salaries as soon as possible, as they are facing eviction for unpaid rent.

“The Health Ministry has imposed stay-at-home orders. But employees still can’t get their salaries from employers. They have no money at all to pay the rent, and are facing eviction,” said CTUM general secretary Daw Phyo Sandar Soe.

“The government must issue a clear instruction enabling workers to withdraw their salaries in time,” she said.

The Health and Sports Ministry ordered on Sept. 20 that nonessential factories be closed until Oct. 7. But with COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, it extended the stay-at-home orders until Oct. 21.

“My employer [initially] said he would pay [September’s] salaries on Oct. 10 at the latest, after the factories reopened. But the lockdown has been extended until Oct. 21, so we have been wondering when we can withdraw our salaries. We have to pay the rent at the end of every month. I have two problems now: no money to buy food or pay the rent,” said clothing factory worker Ma Thinzar Myint.

Myanmar Industries Craft and Services (MICS) general secretary U Thet Hnin Aung said the government had failed to consider the hardships faced by CMP (cut, make, pack) factory workers in Yangon Region, some 90 percent of whom live in hostels.

“Extending the stay-at-home order without considering the question of salaries causes a great deal of woe to workers. The ruling party should not ignore the problems facing workers,” he said.

At some factories where employers paid partial salaries in advance, workers have managed to survive for the past two weeks, but the two-week lockdown extension leaves them facing starvation, said a worker employed at the Yes One garment factory.

“Our employer advanced us 50,000 kyats [about US$38.50] from our salaries. It was just enough for two weeks; and I am penniless for the next two weeks,” she said.

The Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population has said it would cover 40 percent of the salaries of employees of factories ordered to close temporarily by the government. But workers say they have received nothing.

The ministry also said it would give 30,000 kyats to workers who are not registered with the government’s social safety net. But eligible workers say they have not received any of this cash assistance, either.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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