Around 200 unionized workers who make sports equipment for Wilson Sporting Goods, Mizuno, and CCM Hockey at a factory in Yangon, Myanmar, were fired at the end of June 2020 after orders from companies stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers say management shut down the VIP 1 factory while non-union workers were transferred to other nearby factories.

“They announced on June 24, the factory would be shut down. On the last workday, management collected a list of workers who were union members. Seven days later, the employer recruited the non-union workers and transferred them to other factories,” Hla Yee San, a union member who worked at the factory for almost five years, told Shadowproof.

San claimed management at the VIP 1 factory discriminated against and punished workers, who belonged to the union before the pandemic. They prevented these workers from accessing overtime hours or receiving promotions.

Workers at the factory made around $3 a day, which is around $131 US dollars per month (with attendance and skill bonuses).

San also said the factory management created a “yellow” union in 2019 to try to undermine the workers’ union and had CCTV cameras installed to monitor union leaders inside the factory.

CCM hockey sticks produced by union workers, who were fired (Photo from Solidarity Center)

“We want our jobs back,” declared San. “I can’t send money to my family who live in a rural village, and they’ve also had to borrow money to get by. I’m looking for another job because I can’t afford to wait to see if I get reinstated”

In Southeast Asia, workers have faced mass layoffs and experienced unpaid wages as retail corporations in the United States and Europe cancel orders or insist on discounts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bo Bo Nyein, the union president at the VIP 2 factory in Yangon, Myanmar, said he was recently fired after demanding the factory implement and follow protections for workers from the coronavirus.

“Seven union members were fired. The excuse was we created a chaotic situation in the factory in demanding coronavirus protections,” said Nyein.

Safety was already a concern for workers, he explained, because a lot of chemicals and paints are used to make the sporting clothes and equipment. During the pandemic, social distancing wasn’t practiced at the factory, there was no soap provided for handwashing, and workers were only provided one surgical mask to last the entire week. Nyein also claimed factory management has disregarded the collective bargaining agreement workers at the factory won through the union in 2019.

“I’m in debt from getting fired,” added Nyein. “I’ve borrowed money from others because I don’t have income and the interest is high. I’m doing odd jobs like riding bicycle deliveries, very unstable work, to make some money.”

Other factory workers in Myanmar, such as workers who make clothes for companies like Zara and Primark, accused their factories of targeting union members in layoffs. But they recently won an agreement for full reinstatement of terminated workers.

Mizuno USA deferred comment to Mizuno Corporate Headquarters in Japan, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

CCM Hockey declined to comment, denying they source products from Myanmar. However, workers provided photos of CCM Hockey sticks they made at the factory prior to the shutdown, which CCM claimed were samples and not from production.

Wilson Sporting Goods and VIP Factory did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato is a Freelance Journalist based in Gainesville, Florida. His writing has appeared in The Intercept, The Hill, The Guardian, Denver Post, Truth-Out, and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @MSainat1