Shouting their demands and trying to force their way through the gate, thousands of striking garment workers rallied in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs to no avail yesterday. The strikes came the morning after management posted a notice saying some 6,000 striking workers were fired unless they returned to work.
More than two weeks after workers first walked off the job at SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd, approximately 4,000 of them yesterday gathered outside the Social Affairs Ministry.
Inside, government officials facilitated another round of unsuccessful talks between company management and the Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), which represents the workers.
“We waited more than two weeks without getting anything,” Hen Sovann, 20, said as he stood in front of the ministry’s gates yesterday. “We cannot wait anymore.”
Workers’ 12 demands include a monthly minimum wage increase to $150 and for the company to cut all ties with shareholder Meas Sotha, who hired military police to stand guard inside the factory.
C.CAWDU vice president Kong Athit said Sotha’s bringing in of military police amounted to intimidation, provoking workers to strike. The company’s subsequent unwillingness to engage in serious negotiations, he added, demonstrates it is simply trying to remove C.CAWDU from the factory. “This is their way to bust the unions,” Athit said.
Management is willing to negotiate with C.CAWDU, insisted Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, but the demand of removing Sotha remains a sticking point.
“Demand for change, demand for an apology, but you can’t demand the removal of management,” Loo said yesterday. “We are at an impasse with that.”
SL employees were doubly angry at yesterday’s demonstration, after the layoffs announcement.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued an injunction 12 days ago, ordering SL employees to return to work.
David Welsh, country director of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said yesterday that pulling the trigger on the firings would do more harm than good for SL.
“I’d say it’s a counterproductive threat, [SL is] a well-known factory with international brands,” Welsh said. Firing its staff could cause the strike to “spiral out of control,” he added.
After emerging from the negotiation session yesterday, C.CAWDU president Ath Thorn announced no deal had been struck. “I think that the strike will spread all over the capital if the Ministry [of Social Affairs] does not help the workers,” Thorn said.
“Other workers at other factories will join.”