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Union leaders say they still plan to strike

UNION leaders have decided to go ahead with a five-day strike planned for next week to protest the newly established minimum wage for the Kingdom’s garment workers.

Several labour leaders met with officials from the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia on Monday and said after the meeting that they would consider calling off the strike with an eye to benefit negotiations later this year, following the implementation of the new minimum wage in October. After an internal meeting yesterday, however, unionists said the strike would go ahead.

“We’ve kept our stance firm to hold the strike from September 13 to 18 because the workers don’t believe that the employers will negotiate with us after October,” said Rath Rott Mony, secretary general of the Cambodian National Labour Confederation. “This is just their trick.”

Organisers say they have collected more than 80,000 thumbprints from workers, representing roughly 80 factories, who will participate in the strike. Cambodia’s garment sector comprises 255 exporting factories with almost 300,000 workers.

At the centre of the unrest is a July decision on the minimum monthly wage for garment workers by the Labour Advisory Committee, a body of government officials and industry representatives. The LAC upped the wage by US$5 to $61 per month, far below the $93 that some union leaders have asked for.

GMAC secretary general Ken Loo said he had “serious doubts” as to whether 80,000 workers would actually show up to the picket lines on Monday. He said GMAC would advise members facing work stoppages to seek court injunctions declaring the strikes illegal and requiring all strikers to return to work within 48 hours.

“We are certain that the scale and scope of such strike will not come close to what they claim,” Loo said.

Kong Athit, vice president of Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said the strikes were the only legal recourse for workers to show their dissatisfaction with the new minimum wage.

“If the police try to arrest us, we won’t object as long as they have a suitable reason,” he said.

Loo said the strikes would very likely be deemed illegal, as union leaders had not sought government arbitration before calling the strike as required by law. The unionists may also have ignored the requirement for a secret ballot to be held among their constituents to approve the strike.
Several thousand workers staged wildcat strikes in July, following the decision by the Labour Advisory Committee. Anthony Pa, a member of the Council of Jurists at the Council of Ministers, warned last month that the government would consider bringing lawsuits and criminal charges against any who engage in unlawful demonstrations.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE

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