Myanmar: female garment workers attacked while on strike

Dozens of female garment workers in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon were attacked by assailants wielding iron bars on Monday. Hundreds of garment workers at Fu Yuen Garment Co. Ltd., which produced ready-made garments for German discounter Lidl and up until April this year for British fashion brand Joules, have been on strike since August, news agency AFP reported.

The fight at the garment factory that employs about 1,200 women and only about 100 men is about better working conditions - the temperatures at the factory floor are too hot, toilet breaks too short and abuse by supervisors not uncommon.

Though most of the workers’ demands have since been met, the factory management refuses to reinstate those 30 women who called for the strike. Thus, they continued campaigning in front of the factory gates.

Until Monday, when about 40 “gangsters” attacked the women and hit them with iron bars, says one of them, Than Than Soe, according to AFP. Twenty-seven women were injured and had to be taken to hospital; six remained for further observation. The police intervened only once residents came to the women's aid and pelted the factory with rocks and sticks.

The police blame the workers for the violence, saying in a statement that a fight broke out after the small group of women on strike urged employees to participate in the protest. Officers have since been deployed to guard the area but no arrests have been made.

While Fu Yuen management has yet to comment, a spokesman for Lidl told Reuters that the company was liaising with the supplier to investigate the claims. “Once we have obtained all of the facts, we will make an assessment of the situation and take action, if necessary,” he said in an email. A spokeswoman for Joules said the brand had stopped working with the factory since April 2018.

Myanmar’s rapidly growing garment industry employs more than 450,000 workers, most of them women. After the oil and gas industry, it is the country’s top exporter and one of its most important industries, reaching a volume of 2 billion US dollars last year.

Note: The second sentence of the first paragraph was changed to add that Fu Yuen Garment Co. Ltd. stopped producing for Joules in April 2018.

Photo: Garment workers on strike in Myanmar in April 2015 / IndustriAll Global Union

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