A group of nine garment industry unions and coalitions released a letter yesterday making 13 demands for sweeping reforms in the sector, saying they would take to the streets in protests if their calls for improved working conditions and labour relations were not heeded.
The statement expressed “deep regret” that the government set next year’s minimum wage at $140 earlier this month instead of the $160 unions had been pushing for, and asked the government, employers and buyers to address a wide range of longstanding grievances.
The demands include a ban on using short-term contracts; the dismissal of court cases against union leaders, which are widely seen as politically motivated; establishing a national minimum wage for other sectors of the economy; setting price controls on food, petrol and daily items for garment workers; a $15 monthly transport allowance; a $1 daily lunch allowance; bolstering social services; and resolving other worker grievances.
“Our demands are not coming from nowhere because we have been demanding them from employers since 2013, but in the last few years we’ve had a strong focus on the minimum wage, [so] we did not focus on other benefits,” said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.
Sina said the letter would be sent to the Ministry of Labour today, and sent again twice over the next two weeks.
“If we still don’t get any responses, we will call all union leaders to set a date for demonstrations across the country,” he said.
Employers, however, do not appear ready to make any accommodations.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, dismissed the letter as a “threat”, saying that employers would not consider implementing any of its points.
“Unfortunately, this is the way that the unions choose to work,” he said.
If protests took place, they would have to comply with the law, Loo added.
“In the event that [protests] do not comply with procedures, that should be deemed illegal and we hope the relevant authorities will take action against such illegal demonstrations.”
William Conklin, country director of the US-based Solidarity Center, said the unions’ demands needed to be addressed, although getting them all implemented at once may prove “difficult”.
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour did not respond to a request for comment.