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Garment workers told to go back to factories

The entrance to the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in Svay Rieng province, where workers were sent home
The entrance to the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in Svay Rieng province, where workers were sent home on Monday. Derek Stout

Garment workers told to go back to factories

About 30,000 garment workers from 40 factories in Svay Rieng province yesterday were told to return to their jobs after being sent home Monday amid fears a strike over the minimum wage would turn violent.

Has Bunthy, a provincial department director at the Ministry of Labour, said police would patrol inside some factories and on the streets outside others, all in Bavet town, to ensure peace prevailed.

“[On Monday], workers from three factories protested to increase the minimum wage, and about 100 workers entered other factories to urge workers to join their protests,” he said. “The provincial governor requested that all factory owners send their workers home because he feared violence.”

Factories affected included those in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone, where former Bavet governor Chhouk Bandith shot and injured three workers on strike last year.

A meeting with Provincial Governor Cheang Am, factory representatives and police yesterday resulted in a directive for workers to return to work today, Bunthy said.

“We announced to all workers through the media and local radio to calmly return to work and await the result of a decision on the minimum wage.”

The Ministry of Labour is due to announce its decision on a minimum wage increase on Thursday next week.

The figure is expected to climb from $75 to $160 by 2018, but the ministry is discussing whether that will happen in stages or all at once.

As for how many workers will return today, Bunthy said he was unsure.

“But police will spread through streets and factories in order to protect security.”

Chheng Chhorn, from the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said workers protesting on Monday had only been demanding better working conditions.

“They want the minimum wage increased, subsidised lunches and an end to fixed-duration contracts,” he said.

Sok Na, 32, from the Best Way factory, said that he and other workers had wanted to work yesterday but had been stopped.

“Police officials stopped our trucks on the way to the factory and told us to go home,” he said.

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