The two vast special economic zones at the centre of unruly garment strikes in the border town of Bavet sat mostly empty yesterday after local authorities told workers to stop going to work for two days, even though high-level authorities later denied that any order for a work stoppage was given.
The Post saw numerous policemen along the highway connecting Bavet’s Tai Seng and Manhattan SEZs, guarding the roads that trucks packed with garment workers usually barrel down, while workers said village chiefs informed them not to go work.
Phay Sophorn, chief of Kandieng Reay village in Svay Rieng’s Svay Tiep district, confirmed that yesterday, saying district police told him on Tuesday night to inform all 363 garment workers in his village not to go to work.
“It is to reduce tensions and give time for the higher levels to find a solution,” he said.Policeman Doung Chanty said he was informed by district police to turn around any garment trucks going towards the factories due to a planned two-day work stoppage.
Chan Saban, a 29-year-old worker at the Kingmaker factory in the Manhattan SEZ, said she could not go to work because “authorities want to reduce tension”. Numerous other workers said the same.
Despite the evidence, provincial administration director Ros Tharith denied workers were told by authorities not to go to work, blaming false rumours and the workers’ own safety concerns.
Ken Loo, spokesman for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, echoed the remarks, saying that “in the first place, there weren’t many workers who decided to come to work this morning”.
With no place for masses of workers to organise, Bavet was quiet yesterday for the first time this week.
Bavet’s Tai Seng and Manhattan SEZs, which employ more than 34,000 workers, have been rocked by clashes between protesters and police for a week, with both sides alleging violence.
On Tuesday, simmering unrest boiled over when two military policemen were injured by rock-throwing protesters.
Authorities scrambled to find a resolution on Tuesday, promising to release four workers arrested last Friday on bail, while village chiefs received the work stoppage order that same night.
But workers remain tense about the prospects of peace following bitter clashes over demands to raise the minimum wage of $128 by $20 in the coming year rather than the $12 increase mandated by the government in October.
One major point of contention is potential strike-related salary cuts.
Ken Loo of GMAC said a “no work, no pay” policy was in place for the two days off, although factories had some discretion.
“If anybody does not come to work, that person has no right to wages. At the same time, it is the employer’s full right to provide any remuneration if they want to.”
Still, Manhattan SEZ manager Rex Lee said factories were open to discussing “incentives” for workers.
Acknowledging the situation’s high stakes, the International Labour Organization said in a statement yesterday that “recent confrontations are not constructive means of industrial action”.
“The current frictions if not addressed promptly and effectively might become a cause for concern for all parties.”