Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Unions take big picture view



Unions take big picture view

A garment factory worker holds a placard during a protest to demand a higher minimum wage in Phnom Penh in December
A garment factory worker holds a placard during a protest to demand a higher minimum wage in Phnom Penh in December. POST STAFF

Unions take big picture view

Union leaders yesterday said that despite having held strikes calling for a doubling of the minimum wage that were supported and encouraged by the country’s opposition party, they did not feel betrayed that the wage hike was taking a backseat in political negotiations.

Following a government announcement on December 24 that lifted the minimum wage from $80 to $95, a number of unions called a general strike asking for $160 that was immediately backed by the opposition, which quickly began urging workers to join their rallies.

On January 1, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said at Freedom Park: “I have no plan to meet with anybody from the [Cambodian People’s Party]. Our priority is to help factory workers get an increase of the minimum monthly wage to $160”. The next day, government forces began a brutal crackdown on striking garment workers that by January 3 had left at least four dead.

It has since emerged that the Cambodia National Rescue Party began backroom negotiations with the CPP soon after, exchanging proposals which, according to sources close to the talks, did not list the minimum wage hike as a condition.

Rainsy said yesterday the wage hike was not “the essential element” of talks and fit alongside long-term goals including an end to economic land concessions and deforestation.

“You have to be consistent and single out one main point, which is either investigation of the past election or holding of new election,” he said. “When we move close to an agreement, or when implementing the agreement, or when laying the grounds for our work in the parliament, those [other] issues will come to the forefront.”

It appears the unions that led the strikes feel the same way.

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), said she understood that the wage hike may need to take a back seat while a political agreement is hammered out.

“I think that he [Rainsy] did not talk about the workers’ wage in [negotiations] … because he thinks about our nation as the first priority, and then he will turn to pay attention to the workers,” she said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, agreed.

“Everything will be solved if the political issue is solved, like the wage of the workers and the salary of the teachers. [They] will get what they demand when the CNRP wins.”

But Choun Mom Thol, president of the CPP-aligned Cambodian Union Federation, said the CNRP had used garment workers for political gain.

“He [Sam Rainsy] just uses the workers to topple Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen. He never does it for the workers’ benefit. The workers are cheated by the CNRP leaders.… He only talks about [them] at Freedom Park,” he said.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said he pushed for all sides to support the proposed wage hike.

“During the strike, [Rainsy] said he supported the workers’ demand, but now doesn’t put it as a [point] for negotiation, [so] maybe it is not a priority for them,” he said. “[But] we are not disappointed by that, because we are not involved much with the CNRP.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Seven positive for Covid-19, Hun Sen confirms local transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that there has been local community transmission of Covid-19. However, he urged the people not to panic even though the Ministry of Health announced the discovery of seven new cases on Sunday. Among the victims are Chhem Savuth, the director-general

  • Cambodia at ‘most critical moment’, Hun Sen warns

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the first community transmission of Covid-19 in Cambodia has led the country to the “most critical moment” that warranted urgent, large-scale operations to contain the pandemic. Hun Sen, who confirmed the first local transmission on November 28, said the source of

  • PM confirms community transmission, calls for unity

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the public to stay calm, unite and follow the Ministry of Health guidelines after the wife of a senior official tested positive for Covid-19 in the Kingdom’s first case of community transmission. The case has drawn criticism

  • Over 110 garment factories close

    A government official said on November 22 that at least 110 garment factories had closed in the first nine months of the year and left more than 55,000 workers without jobs – but union leaders worry those numbers could be much higher. Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training undersecretary

  • Singapore group seeks $14M in damages from PPSP over ‘breach of contract’

    Singapore-based Asiatic Group (Holdings) Ltd is seeking a minimum of $14.4 million relief from Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX)-listed Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone Plc (PPSP) for allegedly breaching a power plant joint venture (JV) agreement. Asiatic Group’s wholly-owned Colben System Pte Ltd and 95 per

  • PM vows to protect Hun family

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to continue his fight against opposition politicians who he said intend to smash the Hun family. Without naming the politicians but apparently referring to former leaders of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Hun Sen said there