World News

Riot police deployed at Myanmar factory strike

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military government deployed hundreds of armed riot police on Tuesday after more than 2,000 workers from two factories went on strike over low pay.

At least 50 trucks packed with riot police carrying assault rifles and shields were dispatched to secure roads surrounding the Hlaingtharyar Industrial Zone, about 11 km (7 miles) outside the biggest city, Yangon, a Reuters reporter said.

Workers at the Taiyi shoe factory and Opal 2 garment factory began a strike on Monday, said a senior official from the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, adding that an agreement appeared to have been reached on Tuesday between the Taiyi workers and management.

Strikes or other forms of protests are rare in Myanmar, where small demonstrations over hikes in fuel and cooking gas prices in 2007 mushroomed into countrywide marches by Buddhist monks and sparked a government crackdown that killed at least 31 people.

Analysts and diplomats say the government appears to be especially sensitive to the risk of unrest with elections scheduled this year under the final stages of a seven-step “roadmap to democracy” drawn up by the junta.

“It is believed that senior officials from the Ministry of Labour are helping to negotiate between the employers and the striking workers,” said the official who asked not to be identified since he was not authorised to talk to the media.

There are about 130 garment factories in Myanmar, owned by local and foreign companies and employing about 45,000 people.

Total garment exports during the 2008/09 fiscal year stood at $292 million, compared with $282 million in 2007-08 and $278 million a year earlier, according to official statistics.

Myanmar, faced with Western sanctions imposed over rights abuses, has faced increased competition from other regional countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, which offer low costs and cheap labour.

Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jason Szep and Alex Richardson