Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Union leaders call off general strike

Union leaders call off general strike

Union leaders call off general strike

After an impromptu, high-stakes meeting held on July 29 between top labor-union leaders

and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), it was announced that

a general strike scheduled for July 3 would be postponed indefinitely.

Cambodia's top labor leader, Free Trade Union (FTU) President Chea Mony, told the

Post the resolution was the result of a conciliatory letter from Ken Loo, secretary

general of GMAC, which pledged to negotiate worker's demands for a higher minimum

wage.

A portion of the GMAC letter reads "...we acknowledge that minimum wage has

not changed for five years and now it is time to sit and consider seriously on this

issue. We agreed principally on the need of changing the minimum wage."

Among the demands listed by garment factory union leaders was an increase in the

garment workers' minimum salary of $45 a month to $80. The unions are also lobbying

for a reduction in the work week from 48 to 44 hours.

Loo's letter does include a caveat: despite the commitment to address the wage issue,

he said his association's leaders will be traveling to Washington and Geneva for

trade talks for the entire month of July and that negotiations could only begin after

their return.

"If they do not do what they promised, we will use our right to strike. For

now it is postponed," said Mony, whose FTU represents 70,000 garment workers

in 115 factories. "We issued an announcement to workers, members, leaders, directors

and deputy directors of unions throughout Cambodia that we will delay the strike

for a moment."

According to a senior labor official who attended the meeting, both sides left the

June 29 closed-door session unsure of the other's intent. It was only hours later

and after much deliberation that the mass work stoppage - what some have claimed

would have been Cambodia's first general strike - was called off.

"It was very positive, but the million-dollar question was still whether the

strike would proceed," the labor official told the Post. "Everyone was

playing it close to the vest."

The postponement came after Mony and Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Teachers'

Association, spearheaded an initiative to peacefully shut down the country's schools

and garment factories.

In the days ahead of the proposed strike the coalition's demands had been broadened

to include, among other things, a reduction in gasoline prices and the end to harassment

of union officials.

Mony said the strike was designed to show solidarity, highlight demands and raise

awareness.

"We want to be respected. No one respects us and no one knows what the working

conditions are like," he said. "We want to send information to the world

that the government won't solve problems with the workers and that inflation is getting

higher than the salaries. We want the international community to know that union

leaders get threatened and killed."

But Loo insists that a large-scale strike would have been no benefit to union members

or manufacturers. Garment manufacturing accounts for roughly 40 percent of the gross

domestic product and employs around 270,000 workers.

"Garment factories will always lose in the event of a strike," he said.

"We lose production and have disrupted production. The workers tend to lose

as well if the factories incur losses and have to close down. They also will not

be able to get wages for the period they are on strike. In addition, the buyers are

all very sensitive to such events as it brings a bad image for their brand as well

as late shipments.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith agreed that the strike would have been bad for

Cambodia's most lucrative industry.

"When [unions] go on strike, garment factories will move to Vietnam where they

never have strikes and they have cheap labor as well."

Despite the cancellation of the strike, possibly a minor victory for Cambodia's union

movement, concerns remain for its union leaders and advocates. The demands of Chhun

and the 7,000-member CITA, including an increase of teachers' salaries to $100 a

month, were not addressed.

"Students themselves have begun to acknowledge that their studies are not useful

for them," Chhun said. "The government does not care about teacher's salaries

and that's why teachers do not provide good knowledge. This must change."

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon

  • Migrant workers set to return from Malaysia

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation confirmed on Thursday that 158 Cambodian students and migrant workers will fly home from Malaysia on Friday morning. This is the second flight to bring Cambodians home from Malaysia. A ministry notice said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH754 will