More than 65,000 factory workers in Yangon have lost jobs amid pandemic, says regional minister

Women working in the garment sector are among the hardest hit as hundreds of factories close or sack workers

At least 65,000 factory workers in Yangon have lost their jobs over the past year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a regional minister has said, with women working in the garment sector among the hardest hit.

Moe Moe Suu Kyi, Yangon’s employment minister, told Myanmar Now that at least 70 of the region’s factories have shut down entirely, costing almost 25,000 jobs, while 200 more closed temporarily or laid off workers, costing another 40,000 jobs.

But trade unions say the real number of laid-off workers is closer to 100,000 as many factories that have not yet registered with the government have also closed.

“All sectors and people from all walks of life have been affected this past year or so,” Moe Moe Suu Kyi said. “Both employers and employees were affected… but workers who have to make ends meet are affected worse than others.”

The government is paying 40% of the wages of employees who paid social security contributions, Moe Moe Suu Kyi said, while employees who did not pay social security are receiving a one-off payment of 30,000 kyat in support from the government.

She added that most of the factories that closed supply the garment industry, which saw sales plummet as retailers around the world were forced to close amid lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

Several major brands including Primark and H&M were accused last year of abandoning Myanmar workers who were subjected to a widespread crackdown on their rights, including attacks against union members.

Ye Naing Win, secretary of the Cooperative Committee of Trade Unions, said most of the 100,000 factory workers who have been laid off are young women and migrant workers, who have a much harder time finding work.

“There are no jobs. The cost of accommodation is high, they’re facing shortages of food. They’re having a really hard time,” he said.

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