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Unions threaten mass strike

MORE than 60,000 garment workers have reportedly pledged to hold a one-week strike next month after the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia rebuffed their request to renegotiate the sector’s newly established minimum wage.

Ath Thun, head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said at a meeting in Meanchey district yesterday that labour leaders had collected thumbprints from more than 60,000 workers who vowed to participate in the weeklong strike next month.

“We have abided by the law, but still they have denied us [further negotiations]. Therefore, a huge strike will occur on September 13,” Ath Thun said.

“We want fairness for workers who work very hard, but receive only very small payment.”

Last month, the Labour Advisory Committee, a body of government officials and industry representatives, elected to raise the minimum monthly wage for garment workers by US$5 to $61, a decision that will take effect in October.

However, labour leaders have said the raise is insufficient and have called for an increase to as much as $93 per month, plus additional benefits.

Ath Thun was part of a group of 13 union leaders who wrote to GMAC and the Ministry of Labour earlier this month to call for a new round of wage negotiations. He said the unionists had yet to receive a response to this request, but that there was still time to avert a work stoppage.

“If there is a positive reply from the ministry before the date set for the strike, then we will meet and talk,” Ath Thun said.

GMAC secretary general Ken Loo said yesterday that union leaders and workers must “respect” and “comply” with the LAC’s decision.

“Obviously, we have to comply with the government’s stance. Going on strike is the right of workers and Ath Thun, but they have to abide by the law,” Loo said.

Oum Mean, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, said the LAC’s ruling could not be changed.

“It is the law. It was a decision made by the majority, and it satisfied the workers. Therefore, it is not right for the minority to keep protesting,” he said.

Anthony Pa, a member of the Council of Jurists at the Council of Ministers, warned earlier this month that the government would consider bringing lawsuits and criminal charges against any who engage in unlawful demonstrations.

“If Ath Thun keeps making demands like this and we keep agreeing with him, then one day the garment industry will collapse, and tens of thousands of workers will lose their jobs,” Oum Mean said. “Then will Ath Thun be brave enough to take responsibility and go to prison instead of the workers?”

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