Both Sides of Labor Strike Ready To Talk

Hoping to end a five-day-old garment workers strike that has impacted dozens of Phnom Penh factories, Cambodia’s most strident union told management Monday it’s time to negotiate.

“We told them we are willing to meet as early as [this morning,]’’ said Katja Hemmerich, spokeswoman for the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

But Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association, instead suggested a reconvening of the Labor Advi­sory Committee, a 20-member body made up of five manufacturers, all five garment unions and 10 government officials.

The exchange occurred late Monday, after a day marked by  minor disruptions that fell far short of the disturbances that shook the industry last week, as protesters demanding a higher minimum wage and shorter work week rallied outside several factories. When 1,000 workers sat down on the job at the PCCS Garment Co Ltd Monday, they were ordered to leave the pre­mises by plant officials.

“After lunch, they refused to go to work. My instructions are, if they are not willing to go to work, they should go outside,’’ said Assistant General Manager Paul Wong, explaining that the factory’s remaining 2,400 workers stayed at work. Union officials said the workers feared one of their leaders was about to be arrested and were standing by him. The man was ultimately not arrested, they said later.

Police were visible Monday throughout the factory district on Pochentong Boulevard. Not far from PCCS, for example, a half-dozen truckloads of officers were parked in the shade.

Officers stationed across the street from PCCS said they were only there to respond to problems. Demonstrators were welcome to stand in front of the factory, they said, but would not be allowed to disrupt traffic or damage property.

Workers with the FTU will continue their strike today, union officials said.

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