Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Unions take big picture view

Unions take big picture view

A garment factory worker holds a placard during a protest to demand a higher minimum wage in Phnom Penh in December
A garment factory worker holds a placard during a protest to demand a higher minimum wage in Phnom Penh in December. POST STAFF

Unions take big picture view

Union leaders yesterday said that despite having held strikes calling for a doubling of the minimum wage that were supported and encouraged by the country’s opposition party, they did not feel betrayed that the wage hike was taking a backseat in political negotiations.

Following a government announcement on December 24 that lifted the minimum wage from $80 to $95, a number of unions called a general strike asking for $160 that was immediately backed by the opposition, which quickly began urging workers to join their rallies.

On January 1, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said at Freedom Park: “I have no plan to meet with anybody from the [Cambodian People’s Party]. Our priority is to help factory workers get an increase of the minimum monthly wage to $160”. The next day, government forces began a brutal crackdown on striking garment workers that by January 3 had left at least four dead.

It has since emerged that the Cambodia National Rescue Party began backroom negotiations with the CPP soon after, exchanging proposals which, according to sources close to the talks, did not list the minimum wage hike as a condition.

Rainsy said yesterday the wage hike was not “the essential element” of talks and fit alongside long-term goals including an end to economic land concessions and deforestation.

“You have to be consistent and single out one main point, which is either investigation of the past election or holding of new election,” he said. “When we move close to an agreement, or when implementing the agreement, or when laying the grounds for our work in the parliament, those [other] issues will come to the forefront.”

It appears the unions that led the strikes feel the same way.

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), said she understood that the wage hike may need to take a back seat while a political agreement is hammered out.

“I think that he [Rainsy] did not talk about the workers’ wage in [negotiations] … because he thinks about our nation as the first priority, and then he will turn to pay attention to the workers,” she said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, agreed.

“Everything will be solved if the political issue is solved, like the wage of the workers and the salary of the teachers. [They] will get what they demand when the CNRP wins.”

But Choun Mom Thol, president of the CPP-aligned Cambodian Union Federation, said the CNRP had used garment workers for political gain.

“He [Sam Rainsy] just uses the workers to topple Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen. He never does it for the workers’ benefit. The workers are cheated by the CNRP leaders.… He only talks about [them] at Freedom Park,” he said.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said he pushed for all sides to support the proposed wage hike.

“During the strike, [Rainsy] said he supported the workers’ demand, but now doesn’t put it as a [point] for negotiation, [so] maybe it is not a priority for them,” he said. “[But] we are not disappointed by that, because we are not involved much with the CNRP.”

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all