Bosses, workers negotiate return to work after $75,000 rampage at garment plant

Management and employees are negotiating a return to work at a Chinese-owned garment factory in Yangon where striking workers destroyed machinery late last month, media reports said.

Damage to the production line in the February 23 incident at the Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment (Myanmar) Company’s factory at Hlaing Tharyar Township was estimated at US$75,000 (about K102 million), assistant manager U San Htwe told Reuters.

In a statement issued the same day, the Chinese embassy called on the government to protect Chinese businesses and property and take action against the perpetrators of the “attack”.

The incident at the factory, one of about 40 in Myanmar that supplies Swedish fashion retailer H&M, came after about 500 workers went on strike following the sacking of a labour union official in late January.

Production at the factory was halted on February 9 after the strike turned violent and a Chinese manager was attacked by dozens of female workers, in a scene recorded on film.

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As tensions rose, hundreds of striking workers stormed the factory on February 23 and damaged computers and surveillance cameras, as well as textile machinery.

The workers ended the strike on February 25 after the Yangon Region Arbitration Council ordered the factory to reinstate the labour union leader, Ko Thet Paing Oo, media reports said.

Thet Paing Oo, who was sacked after being accused of taking leave without approval, had late last year led a protest that resulted in Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment compensating workers who had not been paid overtime, Reuters quoted workers as saying.

The company confirmed paying delayed overtime totalling K70 million (about US$51,000) to most of its 570 workers based on a settlement reached in December, Reuters said.

H&M has suspended its relationship with the factory.

“H&M group is deeply concerned about the recent conflict and our business relationship with this factory is on hold at the moment,” it said in a statement.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and are in close dialogue with concerned parties. We strongly distance ourselves from all kind of violence,” it said.

Reuters quoted labour activists and industry analysts as saying that the National League for Democracy government has to do more to ensure protection for workers as well as investment stability for employers.

“Industrial relations are still only a few years old in the Myanmar garment industry, and effective cooperative structures are still being developed,” Mr Jacob Clere, who works on a European Union-funded project to improve the garment industry, told Reuters.

The Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, which was involved in mediation between workers and employers of Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment, said it was looking to amend laws to improve the legal framework for disputes.

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