What does it feel like to be thrown out of work on the pretext of layoffs due to cost cutting in corona virus times? It feels like cowardice and bad manipulation by the ones in power. Workers that prefer the safety of unionized systems have been shown the gate of many garment factories in Myanmar and Bangladesh to start with.
It is now a known fact that countries don’t like workers organizing themselves into unions. But if they didn’t, they would face situations like the ones are facing in Myanmar, where unionized members have been chucked out of their jobs. Most members of the union feel that the corona virus has been used as an excuse to get rid of them.
Most of them stand outside the gates, as they watch non-unionized members go to work and do overtime. Some opted out and walked out to show solidarity. But in such trying times, when sales have dropped significantly, this kind of partiality is going to kill garment workers.
Tear gas, water cannons, police brutality and imprisonment were some of the tools used by the governments of Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Myanmar to punish striking garment workers and union members last year, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, an umbrella group for unions around the world. It noted that many workers in those countries who tried to form a union were dismissed from jobs or blacklisted by factories.
Strangely, up until 2019, as many as 109 countries are against workers organizing themselves into unions. Many factory owners are now known to have sacked these unionized workers on pretext of closing down. They have known to open a few weeks later and rehired more non-unionized workers who wouldn’t flinch on less salaries or throw a fit if sacked without notice. Most of these factories are catering to top brands like Zara and Mango. One such company is Myan Mode that has sacked many in the last few weeks. Since then, around 15,000 jobs in the textile industry have been lost and about 40 factories closed across Asia.
In Cambodia too, many unionized workers have lost their jobs without any notice. The workers took to social media and stated how the sacking was against a March 6 appeal from the Cambodian government that stated that Corona Virus should not be used as a chance to discriminate against union members. These factories cater to brands like Michael Kors and Tory Burch. Both brands refused to comment.
The individual who took to the social media was later threatened to take the post down. She is now in jail on accusations of misinformation. Some workers say they now regret being a part of unions as they have been left to starve and fend for themselves. Earlier on, workers were being sacked in factories for asking for protective gear too.
Till date, the rights of garment workers in these South East Asian countries remains misrepresented.