Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday appealed to the approximately 500,000 workers employed in Cambodia’s garment industry to avoid strikes or risk losing factory owners’ business to other countries.
Speaking at the inauguration of a high school in Kandal’s Ang Snuol district, home to 38 garment and footwear factories, the premier noted that garment workers’ monthly minimum wage rose in May to $80 – a rate significantly better than in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
“Now salaries are not in line with [workers’] demands, but at least salaries have increased more than in some countries that are competing with us,” he said. “Do not allow investors to leave our country or there will be consequences for us.”
Without naming the worker or factory, the Prime Minister said that after a prolonged strike caused a factory to close, the strike’s leader had been unable to find other factory work because of his “bad background”.
Hun Sen urged that worker representatives, the Labour Ministry and employers convene regularly to balance wage increases against the risk of overpaying workers, which, he warned, could result in a situation like Greece’s debt crisis.
The premier’s speech came amid daily strikes for better working conditions and higher salaries. At a demonstration yesterday morning, about 1,000 workers from the M&V garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district blocked National Road 2 for an hour.
In response to Hun Sen’s speech, Eak Chan, M&V representative for the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’s Democratic Union, said “workers’ demands are never too excessive, because they’re legal and show that companies must respect the law.”
Free Trade Union president Chea Mony said factories in Cambodia, unlike those in Bangladesh and India, do not have to pay import taxes to the US and EU and therefore could afford to pay workers more.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the recent spate of strikes were concerning to investors because “all the strikes are illegal – they don’t go through the proper resolution procedure.”
But he added that although GMAC had seen some companies leave Cambodia, “they don’t tell us why they leave.”
Additional reporting by Justine Drennan