Myanmar: Garment workers allege factories are using COVID-19 to dismiss union members; Incl. intl. buyer comments

As thousands of garment workers in Myanmar have lost their jobs due to major apparel brands and retailers cancelling and delayed orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, unions report some garment factories are using the pandemic as a pretext to target union members.

On 28 March, 571 garment workers were dismissed from Myan Mode factory, 520 of whom belonged to the factory's union in addition to a woman who had complained of being sexually harassed last year. The factory has cited a decrease in orders from international buyers as the reason for the dismissals, which workers say were made just hours after union representatives requested increased protections against the Coronavirus. Myan Mode produces for international brands including Inditex and Mango.

Another factory, Rui Ning, located in the same industrial complex as Myan Mode, has laid off 30% of its workers, most of whom were union members too.

Company comments are included in the articles below.

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Article
8 May 2020

Myanmar: 500+ union members dismissed from factory producing for Mango & Zara unfairly targeted for demanding increased protections during pandemic, allege workers

Author: Elizabeth Paton, New York Times

"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... 

Myan Mode’s South Korean-based owner did not respond to requests for comment, and did not provide details about the firings... 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]...

Zara’s parent company, Inditex... said its code of conduct for manufacturers expressly prohibited any discrimination against worker representatives. The company said... it was “actively following the situation” at Myan Mode, and would “try to achieve the best possible solution for workers.”...

Mango... said... it “understood the need to ensure that the human rights of factory workers are respected.” The company added that it was maintaining “a continuous” dialogue with suppliers...

[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... 

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Article
7 May 2020

Myanmar: Dismissed garment workers accuse factories of using COVID-19 as pretext for union-busting

Author: Nishita Jha, BuzzFeed News

"Zara's Billionaire Owner Was Praised For Helping In The Coronavirus Crisis. Workers In Myanmar Paid The Price.", 7 May 2020

... [M]ore than 500 workers at... two factories were laid off when they asked to be supplied with durable masks and for social distancing to be introduced to protect them from the coronavirus. One of the factories, Myan Mode, fired every single member of a workers’ union, along with a woman who had complained of being sexually harassed at the factory...

Inditex [said]... it was working with suppliers to ensure they were following official guidance to protect workers during the pandemic... [and] the dispute at Myan Mode had been at least partially resolved, with 29 sacked workers reinstated...

Another factory, Rui Ning, located in the same industrial complex as Myan Mode, had laid off 30% of its workers, most of whom were union members too...

Inditex said the dispute at Myan Mode with 29 workers had been resolved through dialogue, and that the factory had agreed to reinstate the protesting workers. The more than 500 workers who had accepted severance pay could possibly be able to return to the factory once it resumed work at full capacity...

The union worker said... more than 500 workers who were laid off still had no jobs, and the fact that they had accepted a paltry severance was being used against them. Myan Mode had failed to honor an agreement that it would not target the union and lay off workers during the pandemic... Myan Mode is still refusing to recognize the union officially, while it has hired hundreds of daily migrant workers who are not members of any union...

 

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