The web of garment factories and food processing plants has been a flashpoint zone in the drawn-out dispute between capital and labour in Burma.
Leading the march was Hla Hla, a labour leader from the Galanz Ocean cold storage facility.
“It is our responsibility to demand 4,000 kyat pay and reject the proposed rate. It is up to the officials to decide, but even if we don’t get what we have demanded, history will remember that we fought for it.”
Last month, a parliamentary review body raised its originally proposed minimum wage figure by 20 percent, ensuring workers would have at least 3,600 kyat ($3.00) per day.
But one trade union immediately pitched for a higher rate, while factory owners cried out that Burmese businesses couldn’t afford to be more generous.
On Sunday, demonstrators demanded that lawmakers back the workers.
“If our government is truly democratic, then they will listen to the voice of the workers and grassroots campaigners,” said Aung Soe Min, a labour leader from the San Kaung PP textile factory.
The peaceful protest moved through the Rangoon satellite township without incident. But before setting out, organisers were forced to negotiate Burma’s ad-hoc regulations to ensure their march was legal.
The workers were given permission to protest— but limited to a set route, and told what slogans they could and couldn’t chant.
High court Lawyer U Htay is critical of the way authorities have handled Burma’s new-found right to demonstrate.
“According to the Peaceful Processions and Peaceful Protest law, the officials cannot reject permission to stage a protest but they do so regardless,” said U Htay.
“Many activists, workers and students have faced legal action for violating the Protest Law but when we actually try to follow it, it still doesn’t work. The authorities still deny permission so it is hard to follow the law.”
Yesterday marked the deadline to lodge objections to the proposed minimum wage.
Four thousand kyat per day would still put Burmese workers behind their regional Cambodian counterparts who get just over four dollars.
And well behind Thailand, which officially pays its workers at least US$8.80 per day.#
Note: This article was originally published in DVB on 13 July 2015.