Sixteen of 18 union groups planning the biggest industrial action since security forces shot dead at least four people in January agreed yesterday to postpone a stay-at-home garment strike until after the Khmer New Year.
The official reason given was that workers had expressed fear of being left broke and unable to return home for the holidays.
Some union leaders, however, said they were concerned over disunity between the strike’s organisers, while another said unions needed the extra time to rethink their strategy when it came to rallying workers and securing a $160 monthly minimum garment wage.
Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said workers would now hold a stay-at-home strike from April 17 to 22.
“There were eight people who appeared at the meeting today, and we decided to delay the strike on the suggestion of the members and workers,” he said.
But Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said his group, along with the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, disagreed with the postponement.
“I will not abandon my plans, even if not all workers join. But I hope all my members – about 8,000 – will think the same as me, as well as workers from other unions,” he said.
But questions are now being asked about the extent to which workers support the concept of mass strikes in the future.
Unions had predicted up to 30,000 would attend a public forum planned for the capital’s Freedom Park last Saturday. When government forces blocked their entry, the number of protesters was only in the hundreds.
Chhun said the small turnout was a result of disunity among the unions rather than workers’ fears of more violence.
Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union vice-president Kong Athit said the postponement would give unions a chance to reassess their strategy.
“We have not been well prepared,” he said. “We need to work on this.”
But Athit was confident the unions would ultimately be successful in their demands for $160 as they had the support of “at least half the garment workers” – more than 200,000 people.
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, said he was concerned that the unions disagreed over how to secure a minimum wage rise.
“But the workers should make a decision to strike by themselves – they do not need to depend on us,” he said, adding that the small turnout on Saturday merely showed workers did not want confrontation.
Political analyst Kem Ley said that regardless of support for unions, workers would continue to strike so long as the underlying problems – such as low wages and poor working conditions – remained.
“Even though four or five people were killed … the workers are not scared,” he said.