Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that the government would not allow the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to use garment workers as “political hostages” in a strongly worded rebuke of what he painted as a conspiratorial relationship between the CNRP and a number of trade unions to incite protest.
“The opposition party and its trade union [allies] have been exercising political demagogy by using workers as their political pedal [and] inciting workers to illegally strike and demonstrate for an [unrealistic] minimum wage as part of their aim to pollute the investment environment, destroy workers’ benefits and job opportunities for youth,” the premier said in a speech at the 17th Government-Private Sector Forum.
“The royal government will absolutely not allow any group to take workers and garment factories as their political hostage,” he added.
After the government hiked the industry’s minimum wage from $80 to $95 on December 24, garment workers en masse joined CNRP-led protests calling for Hun Sen to step down.
A day earlier, opposition leader Sam Rainsy had told thousands of workers in Bavet town to keep striking for $160. “We have to be together, I support all of you until you reach success, and I’ll be with you and protect you all,” he said at the time.
In early January, at least four people were shot dead by authorities after clashes broke out between striking workers and security forces.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday strongly denied accusations that the CNRP had incited workers to strike and protest.
“The workers had organised demonstrations on their own; they cannot live with a very small salary, so they stand up to demand for a decent income for a decent living. We had nothing to do with that,” he said.
“We want a peaceful solution to the political stalemate. What we have done so far is separate to the workers. They have organised their own demonstrations with their own objectives.
“We do not instigate any protest, but we support their demand.”
Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said workers had only protested with the CNRP because its political platform includes raising workers’ wages.
“We have worked for the benefit of the workers. We are not allied with any political parties.”
But Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said GMAC “absolutely” agreed with Hun Sen and had posted “video evidence” on its Facebook page of Rainsy inciting workers at a Bavet factory.
The December 25 video shows Rainsy in the factory premises, and though he does not appear to directly call on workers to strike, his security guards are seen trying to forcibly move a factory manager.
Rainsy could not be reached yesterday, but in an interview with Cambodia Sin Chew Daily in January, he said he had entered the factory alone only after hearing that workers had been locked inside.