2,500 Workers in SEZ Go on Strike

More than 2,000 workers at three factories in Svay Rieng’s Bavet City went on strike Saturday, claiming their bosses owed them money.

About 500 workers at the You Li factory, which makes baby clothes, went on strike Saturday because management refused to pay them for Thursday after the workers decided to take the day off without permission, said Heng Davy, one of the strikers.

“We asked them to let us go back to work on April 18 after the Khmer New Year, but they denied our request…and they demanded that we come back to work on April 17,” she said. “We will continue to strike until they do not cut our salary.”

Some 2,000 workers at two bicycle factories also in Bavet City went on strike Saturday because their bosses refused to offer them the same deal as another factory nearby, which paid their workers $50 each as a reward for not going on strike over the past few months.

“We went on strike yesterday because we want the factory to give us the $50 they promised after we went to work as normal,” said Mom Samphors, a worker at the Bestway Industrial factory.

Other workers at the factory, however, said their bosses never promised them the $50 bonus but still felt frustrated at not getting the same deal.

Sok Khemara, a worker at Smart Tech, the other bicycle factory that went on strike Sunday, said they were also demanding the reinstatement of 45 fellow employees fired for leading a previous strike, as well as a $50 bonus.

“The factory violated the Labor Law since they fired the representatives without clear grounds,” Mr. Khemara said. “We cannot accept this and we will keep striking until we have a proper solution from the factory.”

Representatives for the factories could not be reached.

Bavet City deputy police chief Keo Sokhorn, however, confirmed that the strikes took place and said the workers were refusing to negotiate with the factory owners.

“At all three factories there is still no solution yet because they [the strikers] walked away from negotiations when the factories asked their representatives to come,” he said.

Soeun Soth, who joined the strike at Smart Tech, said the workers wanted their fired colleagues to represent them, but the factory refused.

The Bavet strikes come in the midst of a separate stay-at-home strike being organized by a group of eight unions in the garment industry.

The unions urged the country’s approximately 600,000 garment workers not to show up for work between April 17 and 22 to pressure the government and factories into raising the sector’s monthly minimum wage from $100 to $160. They are also calling for the release of 21 unionists and workers arrested at the end of the last round of strikes in January and now facing trial for inciting violence and property damage.

Many factories did negotiate to give their workers an extra one or two days off after the official end of the Khmer New Year holidays on Wednesday. But garment factories have insisted that they will be back online today, and one of the largest unions behind the strike said most garment workers will probably return to work early.

“On April 21, 80 percent of the workers will resume work as normal after they had a few extra days off,” said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union. “They need to go back to work because they took days off and they need money.”

Despite the fact that most workers won’t be staying home until Wednesday as the unions has been urging them to, Mr. Mony insisted that the stay-at-home strike was not a failure.

Even the one or two days the factories gave their workers after the new year, he said, “will reduce the factories’ production and they won’t be able to finish their orders on schedule.”

Pav Sina, who heads the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, also said the majority of workers would return to factories, saying that he expected around 60 percent of workers to go back to work tomorrow and 40 percent to stick out the strike until Wednesday.

“This is not a failure, because some factories let them take a day off on the 12th, too, and we have seen huge participation. Eighty percent of factories were closed [after the new year], so this is a huge success,” he said.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia says the factories that extended the Khmer New Year holiday simply docked workers’ vacation days. Some factories are reportedly also making their employees work two or three Sundays to make up for the holiday extension.

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