GARMENT workers took to the streets yesterday for the second day in a row to protest the industry’s minimum wage, as union leaders said strikes could extend for as long as one month if their demands were not met.
Kong Athit, secretary general of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said yesterday evening that 144,520 workers from 88 factories had joined the strike, and that another 50,000 were prevented by their employers from joining.
“We can see that the number of workers [on strike] is increasing each day,” Kong Athit said. He and CLC president Ath Thun said the strikes could extend beyond the one-week time frame previously announced.
“If there is no good solution, we will continue our strike for one month,” Kong Athit said.
But workers and government officials have called estimates of the strike’s size from union leaders into question. Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak guessed Monday that roughly 25,000 workers had taken part on the first day of the strike, compared with an estimate of 68,000 from the CLC. Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said just 20,000 had failed to show up for work on Monday, with only 8,000 or 9,000 actively participating in the strike.
Loo said that roughly 30,000 garment workers did not show up to their jobs yesterday, but that this increase was not due to more participating in the strike.
“I can confirm that in terms of work stoppage, the number has increased, but this is not due to an increasing number of workers participating in the strike,” Loo said.
“Rather, it’s due to workers being prevented from going to work, either through intimidation or fear or simple access blocking at the gate.”
Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that the second day had gone off without incident. Ten people were arrested and temporarily detained on Monday.
“We’ll continue to keep watch on them in case violence appears, but so far there have been no problems,” Khieu Sopheak said.
The strikes have been organised to protest a July decision by the government and industry representatives setting the minimum wage for garment workers at US$61 per month. Protest leaders are demanding an increase to $93 per month.
“Some factory owners have asked us to negotiate on an individual basis, but we cannot do that. What we want is to negotiate on behalf of all workers,” Kong Athit said.
Loo said GMAC factories facing work stoppages planned to seek court injunctions ruling on the legality of the strikes.
“If the court rules the strike to be illegal, workers will be required to return to work within 48 hours, failing which, it will be deemed that they have abandoned their jobs, and the employer has the right to terminate their contract,” Loo said.
The opposition Sam Rainsy Party said in a statement yesterday that it was in “full support” of the strikes.
“Workers’ demand for a fair income, security in the work place, health protection and decent living conditions can only lead to more productivity that can benefit employers and the economy as a whole,” the SRP said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE