International humanitarian group sacks 80 Myanmar employees amid pay dispute

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), an organisation directing humanitarian aid projects in Myanmar, terminated scores of staff striking over compensation at its office in Sittwe, Rakhine State on September 4. 

Employees residing in the Rakhine State capital had requested that the Geneva-based international non-governmental organisation calculate their pay using the real market value of the kyat. 

However, the organisation instead opted to base its calculations on the overvalued kyat-to-euro exchange rate set by the military regime-controlled Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM), resulting in significantly lower real compensation for its workers inside the country.  

As of September 8, the market exchange rate stood at 3,715 kyat to the euro, in contrast to the CBM-set exchange rate of 2,250 kyat to the euro.

“The value of the Burmese currency has fallen too much. Commodity prices have risen sharply. In Sittwe, after Cyclone Mocha hit, prices went up exponentially,” a terminated LWF employee said.

According to the employee, the organisation’s staff held a silent protest at the Sittwe office from August 14 to 18 after the LWF refused the request to reevaluate their compensation. 

LWF Sittwe staff’s letter regarding their silent strike on September 7 (Facebook)

Of just over 90 personnel working at the organisation’s branch office in Sittwe, 80 extended the strike for another two weeks after their initial demand was declined, the employee added. They then heard from the head of LWF operations in Myanmar via e-mail that the striking workers would be terminated. 

“I feel it’s unfair that they have used their power to dismiss us from the organisation without addressing our demands compassionately,” another of the dismissed workers said. 

The terminated employees included 43 men and 37 women, of whom four were mothers of newborns and another four were pregnant.

As of 12pm on September 11, LWF had not issued any public statements regarding the termination of its employees. Myanmar Now tried to contact the LWF office in Yangon by telephone and e-mail but received no response. 

LWF has been operating in Myanmar since the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and is currently in charge of aid projects in Rakhine and Karen states.

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