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Stay-at-home garment strike off to weak start

The E Garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district remains closed
The E Garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district remains closed yesterday. Hong Menea

Stay-at-home garment strike off to weak start

A weeklong stay-at-home garment worker strike over wages began with a whimper yesterday as factories remained closed after a holiday and some workers were ambivalent about the action.

A day after the end of Khmer New Year, the official kick-off date for the boycott, steel gates at factories were closed along the typically bustling National Road 2 spanning Phnom Penh and Kandal province.

“Do we call it strike or not? We don’t care,” Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said yesterday. “It gives the impression to the owners that the strike threat won’t go away unless they resolve the existing conflict.”

The impact of the industrial action will likely not be seen until Monday, when most factories plan on opening their doors after the holiday and the weekend, Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center, said.

Lacking a specific number, Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, yesterday said some factories tried to open but had too few employees to operate.

“I’d be concerned that there are some workers that did not come back and joined the strike,” said Loo, who also attributed absenteeism to the typical gap between factory openings after the holiday and the return of workers.

The strike is scheduled to come to a close on Tuesday, with workers going back to the job on Wednesday after sitting out two days of the week-long boycott in most factories.

Reached by phone yesterday, Phan Phavy, a worker at Complete Honour Footwear in Kampong Speu province, said he felt no need to strike since his factory had already agreed to give workers the extra three days off after the holiday.

But Srey Neang, who works at Building 13 in Phnom Penh’s Canadia Industrial Park, remained unsure.

“I do not know if I will come back on time or wait until the strike is done,” Neang said. “I want to get higher wages and see the court release 21 people [incarcerated during early-January demonstrations].”

Whether workers not showing up for the planned two days will affect factories’ bottom lines, their point will be made, Athit said. “Even big or small effect, it’s [within] our capacity to do so.”

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