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Factory walkout to kick off $177 drive

Garment workers hold placards in front of the Huey Chuen garment factory during a protest
Garment workers hold placards in front of the Huey Chuen garment factory during a protest yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Factory walkout to kick off $177 drive

More than 1,000 garment workers at a Phnom Penh factory entered their second day of striking yesterday, ahead of today’s start of global and national union campaigns to raise the minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment sector.

Workers at the Huey Chuen garment factory in Meanchey district began striking Monday, in opposition to the suspension of employee Heng Siheoun.

Huey Chuen’s administrative manager said Siheoun had come to work drunk and tried to force workers to protest, but Siheoun denies wrongdoing.

The industrial action seemed like a warm-up for today’s planned walkout at about 300 garment factories nationwide, in which 18 different unions plan to take part.

The protests mark the beginning of a campaign for garment workers’ minimum wage to be raised to $177 next year.

“Our campaign for demanding [a hike in the] minimum wage will start tomorrow, but the workers in Huey Chuen factory started today,” Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union Confederation, said.

Unions are demanding $177 – the high end of what a Ministry of Social Affairs subcommittee found to be a living wage last year – but leaders have admitted they would accept a monthly wage as low as $150.

Strikers at Huey Chuen yesterday wore T-shirts and stickers with “$177” encircled by the logos of eight international brands that source from Cambodia.

“It’s time for the brands to take notice . . . they have to act on their commitments,” said Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC). “We just see over and over again repackaged sustainability programs, repackaged pilot programs involving minimum wage.”

CLEC yesterday released a statement signed by one local and two international unions, saying “actions” were planned at the retail outlets and offices of foreign brands that source from Cambodia in more than 40 major cities across the globe today.

Jeff Hermanson, director of global strategies at US-based Workers United, SEIU, said that more than 1,000 people in the US and Canada would demonstrate in front of stores, including H&M and Gap.

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