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Military breaks strike in Myanmar garment factory

15 June, 2023Military crackdown on striking workers and subsequent arrests at a factory producing for Spanish fashion giant Zara yet again make it blatantly clear that freedom of association is impossible in Myanmar.

Earlier in June, seven workers at the Hosheng Myanmar Garment Factory in Yangon were dismissed for demanding a wage increase from US$1.68 to US$1.96. 600 workers at the factory who produce for one of the world’s biggest brands, Zara, went on strike, abruptly halted as the employer brought in the military to threaten the workforce.

Yesterday, 14 June, the seven workers who led the demand for a pay rise, Ma Aye Thandar HTay, MA Thandar Htay, Ma May Thu Min, Ko Aung Aung, Ko Ye Naing, Ko Ye Thwe Hlaing, were fired and a female worker leader, Ma Thu Thu San, was arrested. There has been no contact with Ma Thu Thu San since her arrest and concerns for her safety are increasing.

More than 300 union members and activists have been arrested in the two years since the military coup. The military junta in Myanmar has banned nearly all unions, effectively wiping out the fundamental right of freedom of association.

However, to counter that image, the junta has registered some labour organizations as unions, a process supported by the EU MADE in Myanmar project.

The project, funded by the EU and European-based garment brands, claims to establish social dialogue at factory level in the garment industry but has been condemned as a whitewash by independent trade unions and labour organisations in Myanmar.

“The military getting involved in a strike and workers being arrested yet again show that freedom of association is impossible in Myanmar. The EU should without hesitation put an end to the MADE in Myanmar project, which only serves to legitimize the country’s illegitimate government,”

says Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary.

“The fired workers must immediately be reinstated and not be subjected to threats or attacks by the employer, the police or military troops. Ma Thu Thu San must be safely returned home with immediate effect.”