Wage crisis hits point of no return
LABOUR leaders have pledged that a strike that could be the biggest Cambodia has seen in recent memory will be held peacefully and without public disturbance, amid questions about whether authorities will allow the work stoppage to proceed as planned.
Unionists claim to have collected thumbprints from 80,000 workers who have pledged to participate in the five-day strike, slated to begin on Monday, to protest against a July decision setting the minimum wage for garment workers at US$61 per month.
Protest leaders have requested that the monthly wage for Cambodia’s 345,000 garment and footwear workers be set at $93.
Ath Thun, head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said strikers would demonstrate at their factories rather than on the streets, and therefore posed no threat to public order.
“The workers can either stay at home or go to the factories, but they will not work for one week,” Ath Thun said.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, said on Wednesday that his organisation would advise any factories facing work stoppages to seek court injunctions declaring the strikes illegal and requiring all strikers to return to work within 48 hours.
Cambodia’s Labour Law requires that workers planning a strike give notice to employers and the Ministry of Labour at least seven working days in advance. Union leader Kong Athit said that letters to GMAC and the Ministry of Labour had been sent only yesterday.
Free Trade Union president Chea Mony said the strike’s organisers had not made sufficient effort to negotiate before planning a work stoppage.
“If we strike without holding negotiations and having a clear purpose, it can affect investors, and the government might take action,” Chea Mony said.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said police would not be stationed at factories pre-emptively, and would not suppress demonstrations so long as they were conducted lawfully and without violence.
“If they follow the law, it doesn’t affect security and order,” Khieu Sopheak said. “We will take action if they break the law by causing violence or destroying factory property.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached. Deputy governor Pa Socheatvong and police chief Touch Naruth said they were too busy to comment.
Loo said it was unlikely that the actual number of strikers would come anywhere close to 80,000. Union leaders, he said, had not considered the effect the strike could have on the sector.
“The unions for sure are not going to suffer,” Loo said. “It’s going to be the workers that are going to be harmed the most.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH AND JAMES O’TOOLE