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Threat of ‘mass strike’ looms

Garment workers gather behind barbed wire on Phnom Penh’s Russian Boulevard during a demonstration in December
Garment workers gather behind barbed wire on Phnom Penh’s Russian Boulevard during a demonstration in December. Vireak Mai

Threat of ‘mass strike’ looms

Workers from more than 200 garment factories are to take part in industrial action on Monday, but unions yesterday hesitated to call it a mass strike, saying they plan one of those for later next week if their demands aren’t met.

The chances of another mass strike occurring increased last night when a government committee announced after a four-hour meeting that it would not be raising the minimum wage, despite unions demanding at least $160 per month.

“In the meeting today, we did not talk about the amount … but only the technical side – how we can support the LAC [Labour Advisory Committee] determine whether it can accept [the unions’ demands] or not,” Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour said.

Representatives of nine union confederations met earlier at the Community Legal Education Center after some had told the media that another large-scale demonstration was imminent.

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said after the meeting that unions had agreed to stand firm on their demands, which included, among other things, a wage increase and the release of 23 unionists and workers imprisoned since violent crackdowns last month.

“Our members from about 200 factories over the country will gather at their factories to demand the government release the 23 workers and six other points on Monday, one day before their Appeal Court bail request,” Sina said. “If the court does not allow the 23 workers to go free, we will announce a second mass strike.”

Other points the unions would keep pushing for included the prosecution of security forces who fatally shot or injured workers on January 3, the lifting of a hastily enforced ban on public gatherings and an end to legal action against unions, Sina added.

A mass strike began in late December over the minimum monthly garment wage, which the government first agreed to lift to $95, including a $5 health bonus, and then to $100.

The strike turned deadly on January 3 when security forces opened fire on strikers in clashes that left four dead and dozens on both sides injured.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at CLEC, said it was not exactly clear what unions planned for Monday.

“They’re going to do something on the 10th. But they don’t specify what,” he said, adding that it related to a day of global action calling for the release of the 23, organised by IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation.

“I’m not sure [about the number of workers involved], but it will involve 200 factories. They will let us know later. Maybe some time on Sunday.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL

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