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A garment worker holds a sign in Phnom Penh last year during a protest demanding a higher minimum wage
A garment worker holds a sign in Phnom Penh last year during a protest demanding a higher minimum wage. Vireak Mai

Wage protests still on

Labour union leaders charged with crimes stemming from violent demonstrations during a 10-day nationwide garment worker strike in December and January say they will protest this week supporting a minimum wage raise.

Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina, who was ordered by Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Chea Sokheng not to participate in demonstrations while the case is being investigated, will ignore the injunction, he said yesterday.

“I am not afraid or worried of being arrested,” Sina, who will also be under court supervision until his trial, said.

Sina and five other union leaders have been charged with several crimes, including intentional violence. The charges are connected to the strike, which came to a sudden end on January 3, when military authorities shot at least five demonstrators dead.

Today and Tuesday 18 union leaders and advocates will meet to discuss a mass protest planned for Wednesday. Garment workers will demonstrate in front of their individual factories, demanding the minimum monthly wage be raised from $100 to $177 next year, Sina said.

Charges against the leaders of six independent unions are meant to derail their wage campaign, which will officially begin on Wednesday, said Ath Thorn, president of Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union. Thorn is also charged and due in court on Thursday for questioning.

“We know they want us not to do the campaign on the 17th of September, but we will still do it,” Thorn said yesterday.

Investigating charges against the union leaders for a months-old court complaint – filed by Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia – just as wage talks ramp up seems intentional, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“The government is using this as a protective mechanism,” Welsh said. “It keeps a cloud over all these union leaders who are involved.”

However, GMAC secretary- general Ken Loo said GMAC was not interested in negotiating on its offer of $110 a month, but would comply if the government chose a different figure.

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