A factory worker under pressure during Myanmar’s post-coup crisis
Pan Myat knows she must shut up. The pretty 23-year-old garment worker admits from experience that her rights were thrown out the window following the 2021 military coup in Myanmar.
Myanmar is in the midst of a crisis. In addition to the security situation, jobs are difficult to obtain and keep and workers struggle to maintain minimum rights. This is particularly true for certain categories of workers.
Pan Myat works in a garment factory in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone. She said she did not have full access to her rights as before and had lost her freedom of expression due to the current political crisis in Myanmar.
However, she continues to work to cover her accommodation and food costs. She has no other choice.
“We can no longer report unjust acts like before because they (the factory authorities) are threatening to call in soldiers to arrest the workers. Thus, no one dares to report violations of rights. We could only voice our concerns in secret to the unions,” Pan Myat said.
Pressure on workers is mounting.
“The company has increased the number of garments produced. They reprimanded and cursed those who complained. Sometimes they physically abuse us. Depending on their mood, we often get scolded,” Pan Myat said.
It’s a typical complaint. Workers said some employers were unfairly taking advantage of Myanmar’s unstable political situation. Another garment worker said on condition of anonymity: “The political crisis is so severe and there is no impartial legal system in Myanmar, so we dare not complain to the authorities. violation of labor rights”.
Pan Myat knows that employers are tightening the screws, seeking to take advantage of poorly paid labour.
She says managers and supervisors of manufacturers and factories abuse their authority by oppressing workers. They push workers to work more than the average eight-hour day, demand overtime on public holidays, fail to pay full social security benefits and gradually reduce monthly wages.
“They (employers) force workers to work overtime even on public holidays. Even though they said they would pay overtime, they didn’t. Everyone wants a day off but they forced us. They threatened that those who refused to work overtime would be fired,” Pan Myat said.
Illness is no excuse.
“It is also difficult for us to take sick leave because they reduce our wages if we take leave. We also don’t have full social security benefits. Before, the labor unions negotiated for us. We might even protest if the negotiations don’t work out. However, now we are under threat,” Pan Myat said.
Things are particularly difficult for those in the lower rungs of society.
Another young factory worker said on condition of anonymity: “I cannot continue my studies because of the political and economic crisis in our country. I don’t have a degree, so I have few options to choose a job. And I have no work experience. The current situation is very difficult for young people.
For Pan Myat, his dreams are dashed.
As a young girl, Pan Myat would envy some young people from wealthy families. She wanted to be a university student when universities opened regularly. As someone born into a poor family, she didn’t have many choices.
In addition, Pan Myat, a young and beautiful girl, often faces sexual harassment. Unlike other adults, she has to watch out for everything.
“I only want to study at this age but I have no chance. However, this situation [the political crisis] made my life worse. Being unfairly forced to work and being underpaid is wrong. The worst thing is not being able to talk about injustice. I have to be patient as I have to deal with living expenses,” she said.
Often it comes down to survival of the fittest, with some workers being scrapped.
Some employers take no responsibility for anyone who becomes disabled in the workplace, workers say. Rather than giving Social Security benefits, some employers cut workers’ wages, using excuses. Some employers go to the police to arrest people like the leaders of labor unions.
Pan Myat dreams of continuing her education, but in the current dire circumstances, all she can do is cling to her low-paying job for life.
Pan Myat is a pseudonym