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Overtime strike set to begin

Garment workers gather behind razor wire in Phnom Penh during a demonstration in December
Garment workers gather behind razor wire in Phnom Penh during a demonstration in December. Garment workers have been encouraged to turn down overtime until their demands are met. Vireak Mai

Overtime strike set to begin

Labour union leaders expect employees from at least 100 garment factories around the country to refuse overtime work this week, as workers ease their way into a new approach to strikes.

A total of 18 unions and union confederations – eight in the garment sector and another 10 representing workers in other industries – are encouraging workers to refuse overtime in the Kingdom’s garment factories, where employees typically work at least two to four hours longer than their regular eight-hour shifts each day, said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU).

“People, now they plan to implement our strategy,” Thorn said in an interview.

Unlike the last large-scale garment worker strike, which turned deadly in January, the renewed strike will not include demonstrations, Thorn said.

Garment workers demanding seven points, including a raise in the industry’s minimum monthly wage to $160 and the release of 21 people arrested at demonstrations early last month, will be encouraged to turn down overtime this week.

If no progress is made, a public forum will be held on March 8, before unions stage a stay-at-home strike from March 12 until at least March 19.

Unions have not come to a consensus as to whether they will return to work after the 19th if factories or the government have made no concessions. “We don’t know how many workers will boycott the overtime, but if the majority does boycott overtime, I think it’ll have a big affect on the companies,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center.

But government-aligned unions are telling workers that joining strikes of any kind would benefit no one.

At a press conference held on Saturday, Som Aun, the president of the Cambodian Council of National Unions, said workers should leave their concerns to the experts.

“Wage increases should be left to the government, releasing the [21] detainees should be left to the court,” Aun said.

“Workers should think of supporting themselves.”

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