While workers and opposition supporters marched to mark Labour Day yesterday, and baton-wielding district security guards enforced a ban on gatherings, a very different, uninterrupted rally took place at the capital’s Koh Pich Exhibition Center.
About 2,000 workers from pro-government unions and government officials heard Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng call for talks to raise the minimum wage – a key demand of workers protesting yesterday.
“It is their [workers’] right to act to show their opinion, but some activities to demand higher wages are not acceptable. It is only through negotiation with each other can we find the best resolution,” he said.
Also at the event, Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An said the government was trying to please investors and keep factories from shutting down.
“We have to keep investors investing in our country and avoid strikes,” she said.
She added the government “often pays attention” to workers’ calls for wage rises and improving conditions, including instituting a higher minimum wage.
But Chak Sopheap, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said yesterday’s violence elsewhere in the city was a “very sad moment”.
“The government again showed not only the international community but also its own citizens that they can’t rely on them,” she said. “If they argue the crackdown is for investors, what about the citizens? They do nothing to harm investment. Yesterday’s violence showed they are not serious about their promises.”
Sam Heng also announced at the rally that his ministry had met with Thai officials and selected three provinces where offices will be built to act as a “one-stop shop” for migrant workers heading to Thailand to apply for working visas, a move the government says will protect migrants.
Countless Cambodians travel to Thailand every year for seasonal work, usually without proper legal documents, leaving them vulnerable to abuse.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE