COVID-19 Could Mean Lost Wages For Banana Workers

By Network Media Group
Friday, March 13, 2020

Workers at banana tissue cultivations in Kachin State are worried they won’t receive their salaries because of COVID-19 if their employer takes advantage of a clause in their contract stipulating it doesn’t need to pay them if there is a natural disaster.

According to their employment contract, if the company loses money because of war or a natural disaster it’s not required to pay their wages. The workers had to sign it before being hired to work on the banana tissue cultivations.

Ko Win Myo, who is from Katha and works on a farm in Waingmaw township, told NMG if the company has problems related to its business it only has to pay employees half their salaries but if it’s because of war or natural disaster it doesn’t have to pay them anything.

After the World Health Organisation escalated the level of the COVID-19 epidemic to a pandemic this week, it’s unsure if many of the border checkpoints with China, closed after the virus was announced, will be operational soon.

Ko Win Myo said many of the banana farms are ready to harvest and workers are concerned if the bananas aren’t delivered across the border soon they won’t get paid.

“In the contract, the company has the advantage,” Ko Win Myo Aung said. “It doesn’t need to pay us any compensation.”

After the spread of coronavirus some banana cultivation companies have even lowered their salaries, Ko Kyaw Naing Win said.

Workers normally earn about 100,000 kyat (US$72) at cultivations in Kyan Khan but some found their wages being cut in half after the outbreak in China.

“We’re hard labourers. We can’t take a rest, and we work under the hot sun or when it’s pouring rain. We want to get our full salaries,” Ko Win Myo Aung told NMG.

There are many Chinese banana tissue cultivation farms in Kachin State. Some are near Myitkyina, Waingmaw, Mohmauk, Dawt Hpong Yang, and in Bhamo townships. There are also farms near Laiza, headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation.