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27 May 2020

Kyaw Lin Htoon, Frontier Myanmar

Myanmar: Six labour activists imprisoned following garment factory protests over wages & paid leave during pandemic

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"Is COVID-19 a smokescreen for labour abuses?", 27 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has... resulted in large-scale layoffs as well as fewer opportunities for overtime pay, which is often crucial for making ends meet. In several cases, factory owners have fled without paying workers their salary, let alone compensation for losing their jobs... [A]t factories that have tried to maintain normal operations, there have been tense standoffs between managers and workers who have demanded the temporary closure of factories on full pay because of the risk that COVID-19 could spread quickly... National-level negotiations between labour representatives, employers and the government over a shutdown for all of April with paid leave for workers failed to produce a result. 

... When the Blue Diamond bag factory, which has about 300 workers, resumed production on May 2, 102 members of the basic labour union (as unions within a particular workplace are formally known) were told that, if they wanted to keep their jobs, they had to sign a pledge not to protest again...

[O]n May 4 [and 5, police dispersed the protestors and made arrests]... Dagon Seikkan Township Court sentenced the four men from ABFTU and SDUF, and the two remaining basic labour union leaders – mothers aged 31 and 34 – to three months’ imprisonment for three criminal offences... Legal action was taken against a further 27 people who were involved in the Dagon Seikkan protests under the same three offences. The [COVID-19] curfew and ban on gatherings... [being] against protesting workers – and the speed with which they were sentenced, in a criminal justice system where cases can drag on for months, if not years – has fed suspicions among labour activists that the pandemic is being used as a smokescreen for labour abuses and a crackdown on unions...