Myanmar police officers injured freeing hostages in factory rally

YANGON: Nine Myanmar police officers were injured as they sought to free officials held hostage by dozens of angry workers demanding wages and compensation after their factory was shuttered, authorities said on Thursday (Sep 18). More than 150 former staff descended on the Master Sport shoe facility on the outskirts of Yangon on Tuesday, demanding payment following the closure of the South Korean-owned factory in June.

Kyaw Kyaw Tun, assistant director of the labour ministry’s factories department, said five government officials arrived hoping to defuse the situation, but were promptly taken hostage by the workers. “They (workers) said they had been waiting so long and that they wouldn’t let them go if they didn’t get their salaries by the end of this month. But they didn’t harm them,” he told AFP.

The officials – three from the labour ministry and two from local authorities – were held late into the night, with clashes between police and protesters during their rescue leaving nine officers injured, Kyaw Kyaw Tun said. Two police officers were still in hospital in serious condition, he added.

State-run media said most of the protesters were women which had presented a challenge for the police handling the aggrieved crowd. “We had to relax our police rules on crowd management to the lowest level,” said police lieutenant colonel Myint Lwint, according to the English-language New Light of Myanmar newspaper, which said police were mulling whether to pursue criminal charges against any of the workers.

The report also said the labour ministry had filed a lawsuit against the factory after it closed without informing or paying its 757 staff, who were seeking both wages and compensation. Protests were rare under the junta that for decades ruled the country with an iron-fist and brutally cracked down on pro-democracy rallies in 1988 and 2007.

But in the three years since the end of outright military rule, Myanmar has seen a surge in industrial activism, with workers taking advantage of looser restrictions. However, rights groups say strict laws governing rallies means that authorities have continued to lock up peaceful protesters.

Kyaw Kyaw Tun said workers have been promised they will receive their wages on November 1, after the factory is auctioned by the state. But Moe Wai, a representative of the factory workers and a former Master Sport employee, told the New Light of Myanmar that struggling staff could not wait months for the issue to be resolved.


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