Hundreds of garment workers for Primark and Zara factories dismissed after forming union

By guest author Ava Szajna-Hopgood  from Retail Gazette

Caption courtesy by Retail Gazette
  • Factory workers making clothing for Zara and Primark were fired after forming unions
  • Factories said social distancing was behind the terminations but workers allege new staff were since brought in to replace them
  • Workers tell Zara founder Don Amancio Ortega: “management has seized upon the global crisis as an opportunity to destroy our unions”

Hundreds of factory staff producing Zara and Primark clothing were fired days after forming a union, according to reports from the Guardian.

Sources speaking to the paper said workers across two factories in Myanmar were fired after registering as union members.

Over 100 workers had their work terminated at the Huabo Times factory, days after many of those workers filed a registration for their union.

Management at the factory then transferred 200 non-union workers from another factory over to replace the unionised workers.

Some 298 union members were fired from the Rui-Ning factory in May 2020 after registering a union in February this year.

“I see the firing as clearly union-busting under the pretext of the pandemic. The factory fired most of the union members, including myself,” former Rui-Ning factory worker and union president Kyaw Thu Zaw told the Guardian.

“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, 2020,” Zaw added.

“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.

In an open letter to Zara and Inditex founder Don Amancio Ortega, the fired workers described how their respective factories had failed to provide safety procedures for workers since the outbreak of coronavirus.

“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 told Ortega.

Fired employees who were either members of the union or supporters, also sent a separate letter to Primark calling for reinstatement of employees.

According to the factory workers, the layoffs were justified at the factory by citing proper social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The garment workers pointed out that only 107 out of 1,800 workers were laid off, and days after the termination an additional 200 workers from a different factory were brought in to replace them.

The claims come after Primark said it was establishing a fund to cover the wages relating to cancelled orders at its factories due to coronavirus.

The value retailer established a fund to cover wages of its factory workers in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

“We demand that all our suppliers respect the right to freedom of association. We are working closely with our suppliers at this difficult time and we expect continued compliance with our code of conduct, which clearly requires fair treatment of workers and expressly forbids discrimination against workers’ representatives,” an Inditex spokesperson told the Guardian.

“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,” a Primark spokesperson told the Guardian.

“Once our investigation has concluded, if a breach has been identified, we will work with the supplier on remediation,” they added.