02/18/2010, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Burmese junta cracks down on garment industry strikes

Police and anti-riot units are deployed to stop protests. Workers want better working conditions and a higher minimum wage. Two years after Cyclone Nargis, 500,000 people are still homeless, without enough money to rebuild their homes.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A wave of strikes in Myanmar’s garment industry has forced the country’s ruling military junta to beef up security and deploy police and anti-riot troops in affected areas. The latest episode involved workers in Yangon who organised a sit-in to demand better working conditions and a higher minimum wage. The spark that set of workers’ anger was the decision by the authorities to raise salaries for public employees by 20,000 kyat (US$ 20).

The strike started on Tuesday at the Sky garment factory in the western part of Insein Township in Yangon, when about 100 factory workers stopped working, calling for an increase in basic salary, better overtime pay and days off on public holidays.

“The problem still continues in that factory,” said a senior official from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), adding that government officials, factory owners and workers are now negotiating over the workers' demands.

The event comes in the wake of last week's labour unrest, involving thousands of factory workers in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone, a few kilometres from central Yangon.

The government deployed hundreds of riot police to the area.

The workers were demanding an increase of 10,000 kyat (US ) in salary and ended the strike after employers agreed to pay half the amount.

The workers still want an increase of 100 kyat (.10) for overtime pay and an increase of basic salary.

Riot police trucks, a police custody van and a fire engine are still deployed near the factory.

More broadly, poverty continues to affect the population. Two years after Cyclone Nargis, people are still desperate and homeless.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 500,000 people are still without a home, unable to buy supplies to rebuild their houses because they need to spend the money on food.

Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 killed nearly 140,000 people in the South Asian nation and left 2.4 million homeless.

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