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Svay Rieng garment workers fired, suspended

Garment workers strike in front of Kingmaker’s factory in Svay Rieng province, demanding higher minimum wages in December.
Garment workers strike in front of Kingmaker’s factory in Svay Rieng province, demanding higher minimum wages in December. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Svay Rieng garment workers fired, suspended

Due to incorrect information provided to the Post, a previous version of this story reported that Kingmaker (Cambodia) Footwear Co Ltd. fired 200 workers on December 27 for striking. A factory representative said 200 people participated in demonstrations, but were not fired.

Factories in Svay Rieng province’s Manhattan Special Economic Zone have fired or suspended at least 50 workers – and are pursuing legal action against some – for participating in a strike last month that saw some 30,000 walk off the job.

Heads of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) and Cambodian Alliance Trade Union (CATU) told the Post yesterday that 50 members of their unions were dismissed last week.

“The accusation is not right, because we did nothing wrong,” said Chorn Thieng, a factory worker in the economic zone who said he was suspended and is earning half his regular pay until a lawsuit his factory filed against him reaches court. “We just demanded [a $160 minimum monthly wage], and we still demand it.”

Workers at factories in the Manhattan and Tay Seng Special Economic Zone in Svay Rieng province started striking for a minimum wage hike – from the current government mandate of $75 plus a $5 health bonus – a week before a larger collection of unions called for an industry-wide strike on December 24.

The larger strike was called the same day the Ministry of Labour set the 2014 minimum wage for garment and shoe factories at $95; the ministry raised 2014 wages to $100 per month a week later.

The firings and suspensions of CUMW and CATU workers occurred last week, prior to January 3, when military officials opened fire on demonstrators on Veng Sreng Boulevard, killing at least four and injuring dozens.

“[Firing workers] is just sort of in keeping with this incredible blanket trend of an assault of the garment trade unions of Cambodia and the garment workers of Cambodia,” said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.

In the wake of the firings and suspensions of 45 CUMW workers, the union plans on filing a complaint in Svay Rieng Provincial Court, CUMW president Pav Sina said yesterday. With the court and authorities’ recent aggressive actions toward unions – including surrounding CUMW’s Svay Rieng office at times – the suit faced little likelihood of success, he admitted.

“We will file the complaint against the factories that sacked our members … but my complaint would be useless if I filed now,” Sina said.

Has Bunthy, director of Svay Rieng’s provincial Labour Department, yesterday said he had urged local factories to reinstate their workers to no avail.

“I tried my best to negotiate with factories to accept [workers] back, but the factories rejected,” Bunthy said.

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