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Strike falls flat as factories fill

Garment workers return from lunch and file into Terratext’s factory in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Garment workers return from lunch and file into Terratext’s factory in Phnom Penh yesterday. Pha Lina

Strike falls flat as factories fill

What was supposed to be a widespread garment protest fell flat yesterday, as most workers returned to their posts, days ahead of the end of a planned weeklong stay-at-home strike.

A program officer at the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) said no workers took part in the strike, while C.CAWDU president Ath Thorn said employees at “more than 10” factories were on strike yesterday, but admitted that the majority of workers had returned to work.

“More [employees] went to work, but some did not,” said Thorn, who earlier yesterday claimed that up to 90 per cent of the garment sector did not work on April 17, the strike’s first day.

Most of Cambodia’s factories remained closed after Khmer New Year until Monday, making yesterday the litmus test for workers’ support of the strike, several industry observers said last week.

Since so many factories were closed on the three preceding work days, the high attendance level calls into question alleged strike participation of the previous days.

Vorng Demorng, C.CAWDU program manager, yesterday alleged that factories had taken a carrot-and-stick approach to the strike, warning employees not to participate and offering bonuses to those who worked through the weeklong strike. Demorng said she believed the strike was over.

Whether or not factories offered incentives to employees who came to work during the planned strike makes no difference, Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo said.

“If they offer bonus, they offer bonus,” said Loo, who previously stated he believed few workers would participate.

While the strike over the minimum wage lacked the punch of the one staged in December and January, which crippled the industry for at least 10 days, it has shown that unions have the power to force factories to temporarily change their operating procedures, said Dave Welsh, country manager of labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“I would point to the fact that so many factories were closed [Thursday to Saturday], which from their end was likely some sort of preventative measure,” Welsh said.

The small-scale strike shows workers have the ability to shut down the industry or protest in a quieter way, he added.

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