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200 Myanmar workers fired from garment jobs in China’s Yunnan province

China flag. (Unsplash)
March 31, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Some 200 Myanmar migrant workers were fired from their garment factory jobs in China’s Yunnan province and forced to leave the country after they protested for better pay and working conditions, a labor union leader told Radio Free Asia.

More than 1,000 workers from two garment factories in Yunnan’s Yingjiang city demonstrated on March 17, according to Tin Tin Wai, the co-chairwoman of the New Light Federation of Labor Unions Myanmar. 

“We were threatened through interpreters with police arrest if we didn’t stop the protest,” said a worker who identified himself as Super. “The police officers looked like they were about to beat us, but they ended up not hitting any protesters.”

The next day, factory officials demanded that some of the protesters undergo a medical exam, Tin Tin Wai said. The 200 workers who were fired from the Shangcheng and Xinjiahao factories were told they had failed the exam, she said.

They were then immediately driven out of the factory gates to a police station, where they were told to sign a document that said they weren’t fired for protesting, according to one of the workers, Ma Jue.

“They didn’t allow us to take our belongings out of our rooms,” she told RFA. “We were forced to sign a paper that we were voluntarily returning home.”

The workers were then driven back to Myanmar’s Kayin state, Tin Tin Wai said.

No legal recourse

Protesters had demanded that their usual 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. working schedule be scaled back, that they be paid extra for overtime and that they receive a monthly salary of 1,500 yuan (US$208) with an attendance bonus, she said.

They also asked for reasonable output goals and to have Sundays off, she said. 

There are more than 1,000 Myanmar migrant workers at the Shangcheng factory and about 300 workers from Myanmar at the Xinjiahao factory.

Because there is no memorandum of understanding between the two governments, Myanmar migrant workers at Chinese garment factories don’t have legal recourse and can be sent home at any time, according to observers of Myanmar labor issues at the Chinese border. 

At the Shangcheng and Xinjiahao factories, employment agents who arranged for the workers to come from Myanmar never get involved or take any responsibility when there are disputes between the workers and factory owners, Tin Tin Wai said.

Super told RFA that some Myanmar workers were promised higher salaries than the ones they now receive. 

“The Chinese employers offered salaries of 900,000 to 1,000,000 kyats (US$425 to US$475), plus overall expenses for accommodation,” said the worker, who identified himself as Super. “However, the workers did not even get 800,000 kyats (US$380).”

Super said he watched some workers quit because they couldn’t handle all the overtime work and didn’t have access to painkillers or other medicine.

RFA contacted the Chinese Embassy in Yangon and the Myanmar Consulate in Yunnan about last week’s protest, but there was no response.