ABOUT 10,000 garment employees in Kandal province have flouted a court-ordered deadline to return to work.
They instead opted to continue protesting against the suspension of more than 50 union representatives who participated in a large-scale work stoppage last week, a union leader said.
A coalition of rights groups condemned the suspensions, many of which were approved by the Kandal provincial court.
In a joint statement, the groups – including Licadho, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and the local branch of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity – said at least 70 unionists had been suspended in Kandal, along with 22 others in Kampong Speu province.
The statement described the suspensions as “undisguised retributions” for participating in the strike, and said they were in violation of an article in the Labour Law that prohibited discrimination against union members.
Industry representatives have justified the suspensions by saying last week’s strike was illegal.
Labour leaders called off the strike, which was spurred largely by a July decision that set the industry minimum wage at US$61 per month, on Thursday after the Ministry of Social Affairs called for a meeting this month to discuss potential “benefits” for workers earning the minimum wage.
But fresh strikes began in Phnom Penh and in Kandal province on Friday afternoon when some labour leaders claimed more than 200 union representatives were suspended after factory owners accused them of inciting the original strike.
Employees at three factories in Kandal continued to strike in defiance of warnings – posted on factory walls – that they would “automatically” lose their jobs if they didn’t return to work by morning.
Kong Athit, secretary general of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said that union leaders urged workers to stop striking, but that many had failed to return in the absence of their union representatives.
“There are more than 10,000 workers who have continued their strike in Kandal province, and I don’t know whether they will be fired or not,” he said.
He believed most strikers in other provinces had already returned to work.
Kong Athit said he had not heard of any workers being fired for ignoring the deadline.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, said the factory owners in Kandal province had extended the deadline by 24 hours. “In the three factories where the situation is most severe, the factories have decided to give one more day to the workers,” he said.
He added, though, that an investigating judge at the provincial court had already given at least one of the factories permission to fire workers who were striking on Tuesday.
Provincial court president In Vanvibol declined to comment yesterday.
On Monday, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an international NGO, condemned the government’s response to the strike, saying workers were “met with acts of harassment, intimidation and, in some cases, physical assault by the police and employers”.