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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Violent clash as garment strike intensifies

Violent clash as garment strike intensifies

A nationwide garment worker strike intensified yesterday with at least one violent clash, even as authorities and Ministry of Labour officials agreed to continue negotiations with labour unions and industry officials on Monday.

More than 1,000 strikers blocked Russian Boulevard in front of the Labour Ministry yesterday, as union groups continued to demand a minimum monthly wage of $160 for garment workers next year - rather than the $95 announced Tuesday - and six additional points including a daily $3 food allowance for all workers.

Garment workers currently earn a minimum wage of $80, which includes a $5 health bonus.

A meeting of six union groups and Labour Ministry officials yesterday ended with no resolution, but the unions – the Free Trade Union (FTU), the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), the Coalition of Cambodian Unions (CCU), the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), the Worker Friendship Union Federation (WFUF) and the Independent Youth Trade Union (IYTU) – will gather again Monday morning at the ministry for a negotiating session with the the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said C.CAWDU president Ath Thorn, who attended this afternoon's meeting.

Monday’s meeting appears to be a sincere effort on the government's part to renegotiate the $95 minimum wage, said Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“I'm pretty confident that they're looking to renegotiate the minimum wage they announced,” Welsh said after the meeting.

Waiting outside the ministry during the meeting, Sen Peak, a 22-year-old garment worker, said the struggle for a living wage has swayed her toward supporting the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has been conducting a series of daily protests for nearly two weeks now.

"We can't live on so little,” Peak said. “There is too much corruption here, which is why we join the CNRP."

GMAC, which on Thursday issued a “strong” suggestion to its 473 member factories to shutter operations until Monday out of fear of strike-related violence and property damage, reported that 240 factories within a 40-kilometre radius of Phnom Penh have been affected.

At least one violent incident occurred on Friday, when police blocked a large group of workers bound for Freedom Park as they attempted to march inside the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on National Road 4 at about 8:30am, said Hui Pichsovann of the Community Legal Education Center.

Demonstrators were beaten with electrified batons during the ensuing clash, with at least one man hospitalised for injuries he received, said Pichsovann, who arrived on scene shortly after the violence. Between three and seven people were detained by police, he added, though at least three were released.

Police on hand fired warning rounds into the air, but did not aim at demonstrators, Pichsovann said.

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