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Strike called off early

A UNION leader said yesterday that he had called off a garment sector strike that began on Monday after the government indicated a willingness to negotiate benefits for workers earning the minimum wage.

Ath Thun, head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, announced the strike shortly after a July decision from the government and industry representatives that set the minimum wage for garment workers at US$61 per month.

The new rate, which is set to go into effect in October, increased the previous minimum wage, established in 2006, by $5, falling far below the $93 that union leaders had campaigned for.

“If they do not give us the chance to hold new negotiations, we will still hold the strike,” Ath Thun said last month.

Yesterday, however, Ath Thun said that he had called off the strike at midday after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Social Affairs inviting employers and union representatives to meet later this month to discuss “benefits” for those receiving the minimum wage.

The letter, signed by Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng, states that, during a meeting to be held on September 27, “we will discuss an agenda connected with some benefits for the workers to add to the minimum wage”.

Ath Thun yesterday said that although the letter did not mention revising the minimum wage, the proposed meeting was a sign that the strikes, originally planned to take place over five days, had been successful.

“It is really a success for the workers because the strike has not yet finished but it made the government officials agree to negotiate with us,” he said. He added the workers had been striking “to demand benefits and decent wages for the workers”, and noted that they had not been trying to press the government to revise the minimum wage approved in July.

“We will not raise the minimum wage increase in the meeting because we already agreed to [it],” he said, and added that he hoped instead to negotiate improved overtime wages, money for food, seniority wages and bonuses.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said yesterday that there would be “absolutely no compromise on the minimum wage”, and that the meeting called by the Social Affairs Ministry would be held “to discuss the other allowances over and on top of the minimum wage”.

He declined to comment on why the strike was called off, but noted that the strike’s days had already been numbered.

“Most of the factories that were affected by the work stoppages have obtained court orders requiring the workers to return to work within 48 hours,” he said, and the workers who disobeyed risked losing their jobs.

Ath Thun said he had called off the strikes purely because the ministry had indicated a willingness to negotiate, and that the move had nothing to do with the court. “I had not received the court order until after I already called off the strike,” he said yesterday.

Chiv Keng, president of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said he had sent orders to union representatives yesterday morning, instructing them that workers would need to return to their jobs by Friday.

Officials at the Ministry of Social Affairs could not be reached for comment.



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