Just days after forming a union, workers at factories in Myanmar that produce clothing for Zara and Primark alleged they were fired in a move that targeted union supporters under the pretence that layoffs were related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Spanish fashion brand Zara is the main brand of Inditex, the largest clothing retailer in the world.
Days after filing a registration for their union, workers at the Huabo Times factory noted its management terminated over 100 workers, primarily union members and supporters.
At the Rui-Ning factory, 298 union members were fired from the factory in early May 2020. The union registered at Rui-Ning in February 2020.
“I see the firing as clearly union-busting under the pretext of the pandemic. The factory fired most of the union members, including myself,” said Kyaw Thu Zaw, a worker at the Rui-Ning factory for about 10 months and president of the union.
“They gave the excuse of difficulty in transporting products to Europe, but in reality there was no difficulty as the factory transported a bulk of products to destination countries on May 12.”
He noted regular shifts consisted of 10-hour work days, six days a week, with workers expected to regularly work overtime in order to make enough money to survive. Workers at the factory make around US$3 per day.
“Inditex must enforce decent and humane working conditions in the factories where they make their clothes. They make public statements about equality and sustainability, but here we are in the flesh suffering,” added Kyaw Thu Zaw.
The fired workers sent a letter to Zara founder Don Amancio Ortega, the sixth wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of over US$66bn, according to Forbes.
“When the pandemic began, many workers like us continued to make your clothes even as factory management initially failed to grant us safety measures such as face masks and social distancing as a way to protect ourselves and our families from COVID-19. Now, the management has seized upon the global crisis as an opportunity to destroy our unions, dismissing union members en masse,” the workers at two clothing factories in Myanmar wrote to Ortega.
The clothing factory workers at the Huabo Times factory also produce clothing for Primark. Fired pro-union employees sent a separate letter to Primark calling for reinstatement of employees, and for the company to mediate a resolution.
Workers attempted to form a union because there was no employment contract outlining rules and responsibilities of the employer, and workers wanted to hold the employer accountable for suppressing and breaching rights of workers.
“The employer dismissed workers during the rainy season so it’s very difficult to find a new job,” said Naing Win San, another union leader who was fired from the factory. “They used coronavirus as an excuse for the firing, but the employer dismissed all our members and supporters. All 107 workers are all related to the union.”
A spokesperson for Inditex said Zara is just one of several customers at the two factories, and said they are pushing for dialogue between management and the union to resolve the dispute.
A spokesperson for Primark said in an email the company’s code of conduct affirms all workers have the right to join or form a union.
“We are in contact with both the union and the supplier, who has entered into dialogue with the union and the ministry of labour, to determine further details,” said the spokesperson.
“Once our investigation has concluded, if a breach has been identified we will work with the supplier on remediation.” (Source: The Guardian)