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Strike continues, divided

Rong Chhun speaks at a Phnom Penh forum about a living wage for workers in 2012
Rong Chhun speaks at a Phnom Penh forum about a living wage for workers in 2012. Heng Chivoan

Strike continues, divided

Two associations representing teachers and other public servants are advocating diametrically opposed approaches to pressuring the government to raise salaries, with one urging the suspension of an ongoing teachers’ strike and the other calling on all public sector employees to join them.

At the end of last month, Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA) president Rong Chhun called for a one-week teacher strike starting on January 6, demanding the government raise Cambodian teachers’ monthly pay to at least 1 million riel ($250). After authorities opened fire on demonstrators supporting a garment worker protest, killing at least four, Chhun called for a suspension of the strike, though some have stayed out of the classroom.

“As of today, teachers in Siem Reap, Takeo and Phnom Penh who began striking on January 6 are still protesting,” Chhun said yesterday.

Pin Chamnarn, acting Minister of Education, warned that any teacher or education official who violates the code of ethics and education law by striking would “be fined and ordered to pay from one to five million riel”.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association (CICSA) on Wednesday sent a letter to its 1,500 members, urging them to refrain from attending work until all civil servants receive a minimum monthly wage of 2 million riel ($500).

Of CISA’s members, only teachers have joined the strike – which CISA originally called for in a December 28 letter – said Kao Poeun, the association’s president.

“Some of them are not going to work, but some of them are striking inside the school,” Poeun said yesterday, adding that some of their Phnom Penh members have come to school refusing to teach and holding banners supporting their cause. “Compared with the real [living] expenses, the salary we get is very low.”

Unlike garment workers, civil servants such as teachers, police and hospital staff have no minimum wage. Cambodia’s labour law, which assures the right to unionise and collectively bargain, does not apply to public sector employees. They fall under the Common Statute of Civil Servants, which does not mention unionisation or collective bargaining.

The fact that public employees are not covered under the labour law is often exploited, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center. There have been instances of civil servants disciplined for unionist activity, Welsh said.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, yesterday said public servants should be allowed to participate in union activity without consequence, as the constitution guarantees freedom of association.

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