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Thousands still striking at Bavet SEZs

Factories in three special economic zones (SEZs) remained closed yesterday as unrest over the minimum wage in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet town continued into its third day.

Thousands of workers walked off the job on Wednesday afternoon, after employees unhappy with what they say is an inadequate rise in the national garment industry’s minimum wage, recently set at $140 for 2016, began protesting at the Kingmaker Footwear factory in the Manhattan SEZ.

The unrest, which saw rocks hurled through windows and factory doors broken, soon spread to the nearby Tai Seng 1 and Tai Seng 2 SEZs.

By Thursday, about 30,000 people from 39 factories had stopped work, many joining protests that were characterised as a “riot” by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which called for the government to intervene.

Work in the Manhattan zone partially resumed yesterday, with about 10,000 employees clocking in at 10 factories, though Tai Seng 1 and Tai Seng 2, as well as Neak Reach SEZ, remained completely shut, according to Has Bunthy, director of the Svay Rieng provincial labour department.

Authorities yesterday met with unions and urged them to step in, though unions again denied organising the industrial action.

“We want unions to help us convince protestors to return back to work tomorrow. Factories have lost a lot of profit during the protest,” Bunthy said, adding factories in Tai Seng and Manhattan were discussing whether to dock the salaries of workers who left their posts.

Chea Oddom, provincial representative of the Cambodian Union for the Movement of Workers (CUMW), said there was little they could do as unions had largely been kept out of SEZ factories.

“We can only observe the protest,” said Oddom, who met with labour authorities.

“This is the problem when they don’t let many factories at SEZs have unions – the rights of unions are blocked.”

Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC) provincial coordinator Khut Sokhom, also at the meeting, echoed his remarks.

“What we all need is cooperation from authorities and employers with unions,” he said.

According to Bunthy, four men have been detained over the property damage, though representatives from CUMW, CLC, rights group Licadho

and Bavet deputy police chief Kao Horn, were unaware of any arrests.

GMAC secretary general Ken Loo said only “hundreds” were actually protesting, while thousands were either blocked from returning to work or concerned about their safety.

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