Garment workers in Myanmar & Cambodia allege factories are using COVID-19 as pretext to dismiss unionised workforce

Author: Elizabeth Paton, New York Times, Published on: 8 May 2020

"Union Garment Workers Fear 'an Opportunity to Get Rid of Us'", 8 May 2020

Myan Mode... produces... for fashion companies like Mango and Zara. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it has seen a decrease in orders from international retailers. That was why it let go almost half of its 1,274 workers in late March, the factory’s managing director said... Three fired sewing operators, however, said the factory was taking an opportunity to punish workers engaged in union activity... Maung Moe, Ye Yint and Ohnmar Myint — said that of the 571 who had been dismissed, 520 had belonged to the factory’s union... About 700 workers who did not belong to the union kept their jobs... Maung Moe... said he and other union members had been in discussions with the factory managers before the firings, demanding personal protective equipment and [physical distancing]...

[T]he fired... workers had protested outside the factory for weeks, watching as daily wage workers entered and... former colleagues left at midnight after overtime shifts. Eventually, management offered severance but not re-employment to the 571 fired workers, plus 49 employees who had walked out in solidarity. All but 79 eventually took the severance pay... 

On March 31, several dozen union workers at the Superl leatherwear factory... [in] Phnom Penh — which produces handbags for brands like Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Kate Spade — were told they were being let go. One was a woman who was six months pregnant. Soy Sros, a factory shop steward and the local president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, wrote about the company’s actions on Facebook... [and] was forced by factory management to take down her post and make a thumbprint on a warning letter accusing her of defamation. On April 2, she was... charged with posting fake information on social media. She is now in jail.

Superl, which is based in Hong Kong, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Michael Kors and Tory Burch, which regularly place orders at the factory. Another customer, Tapestry, the owner of Kate Spade, declined to comment...

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