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Garment workers leave Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district after finishing work
Garment workers leave Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district after finishing work yesterday. Hong Menea

Boycott a tough call for many

Outside the Bloomtime Embroidery factory in Por Sen Chey district yesterday, Chenda, a 23-year-old garment employee, said he would refuse overtime work this week, even though it means a large cut to his monthly wage.

“I can get about $30 per month from overtime work,” said Chenda, who declined to give his full name. “I need the money, but I want to help the other workers who are detained in prison.”

About half an hour later, at 5pm, Theara, 35, walked out of the nearby Bright Sky factory with more than 2,000 other workers finishing their overtime shift.

Forgoing overtime seems pointless, since so few in her factory went along with the boycott, said Theara, who also declined to give her full name.

“On Monday, between 30 and 40 workers among more than 3,000 workers boycotted overtime,” Theara said. “It is difficult to succeed, because workers are not united.”

The actual size of a boycott of overtime work in Cambodia’s garment factories remained dubious yesterday, as it moved into its second day. Garment workers participating demand a minimum monthly wage raise to $160, the release of 21 detainees arrested during demonstrations supporting a garment worker strike early last month and five other points.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said more than 150,000 workers across 129 factories boycotted overtime on Monday, but he didn’t yet have yesterday’s total.

However, Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that number was largely inflated and few factories are affected by the action.

Other leaders of unions behind the overtime strike – which precedes a planned stay-at-home strike from March 12 until at least March 19 – said yesterday’s participation was at least on par with Monday.

Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina and Community Legal Education Center labour program head Moeun Tola both alleged that military police gathered at some factories at about 2pm yesterday in an apparent attempt to intimidate workers.

Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito could not be reached for comment last night.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Hun Sen decried industrial action by workers during a speech in Preah Sihanouk province. “Please, hold protests against these inciters,” Hun Sen said.

In Phnom Penh yesterday morning, opposition party president Sam Rainsy spoke out in favour of releasing the 21 detainees during a small demonstration in front of the Supreme Court.

“They were detained on an unfair charge,” Rainsy said. “I have experienced that, not once, but thrice.”

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