GARMENT workers protesting the suspension of union representatives in the aftermath of last week’s coordinated strike continued their demonstrations yesterday despite the fact that they could be dismissed from work.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said roughly 10,000 workers at four factories in Phnom Penh and Kandal provinces had been involved in strikes to protest the suspensions.
GMAC advised its members last week to pursue court injunctions that would require strikers to return to work within 48 hours or face the possibility of having their employment terminated. Loo was unsure whether the 48-hour window had elapsed at the four factories, but said workers still striking at factories that had won injunctions could soon be dismissed.
“Our advice to the factories is, if the 48 hours are due and workers still do not return to work, then please prepare the official notice of termination of the employment contract for violating the court order to return to work,” Loo said. No workers or union representatives have yet been dismissed, he said.
At Kandal province’s Winner Garment Factory, union representative Sim Sokha said roughly 2,000 workers had protested after 10 union representatives were suspended.
“The workers will face more problems when they don’t have representatives to protect them when the factory abuses their rights,” Sim Sokha said.
At the Goldfame Enterprise factory, also in Kandal, unionists said roughly 5,000 workers protested the suspensions of 19 union representatives, whose photos were posted outside the factory.
“We demanded more wages to support ourselves, but now we are not allowed to work,” said union representative Chea Thyda.
Ek Sopheakdey, secretary general of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said labour leaders appealed to the government yesterday to allow the suspended representatives to return to work.
Organisers said at one point that last week’s strike could stretch for as long as one month, though it was called off in its fourth day on Thursday after the Ministry of Social Affairs wrote a letter calling for a meeting next week with union leaders to discuss benefits and other issues unrelated to the minimum wage.
A directive signed last week by Prime Minister Hun Sen authorised government officials to cooperate with garment factories to pursue legal action against alleged masterminds of last week’s strike; law enforcement officials were directed to prevent a resumption of the work stoppage.
Union leaders said 12 garment workers in Phnom Penh and Kandal were injured on Saturday during clashes with police as they protested the dismissal of the union representatives. GMAC said the garment industry lost more than US$15 million as a result of last week’s strike.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE