Factories Closed Until Safety Guaranteed

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) on Sunday said all of the country’s 400-plus garment factories will remain closed until the government and striking trade unions can guarantee the safety of the factories and all employees who want to work.

The decision, outlined in an open letter GMAC released after a meeting of its board Sunday morning, will effectively halt the country’s largest export industry, which generated a critical $5 billion in revenue during the first 11 months of this year.

Dissatisfied with a $15 raise in the monthly minimum wage to $95, which the government approved for all garment workers last week, some unions have stepped up their strikes and protests, demanding a doubling of their wages to $160. One protest on the outskirts of Phnom Penh turned violent on Friday when workers briefly clashed with police, leaving windows smashed and at least three protesters bruised.

GMAC singles out six unions for inciting their members to damage factory property and of coercing other workers into joining their protests. The six include the Free Trade Union and the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), two of the largest unions not aligned with the government.

The alleged misbehavior of the six unions, the letter says, “have left us with no other option but to close.”

GMAC also asks the unions and the Labor Ministry to protect factory property and to guarantee the safety of workers who want to work.

“When these conditions are met, we would be happy to receive the invitation for GMAC members to resume operations and only then will we be able to participate in discussions on matters going forward,” GMAC says.

The letter also says that work stoppages over the past few days could lead factories to be fined by their buyers, and for workers to go without pay. It lays full blame for these problems at the feet of the six unions, who “will have to bear full responsibilities [sic] for the loss of wages, loss of jobs and the loss of investment in Cambodia.”

CCAWDU vice president Kong Athit said he could not stop the protesters from demonstrating, and denied the unions were inciting workers.

“I don’t own the workers, so when the workers protest how can I stop them, because there is no solution for them,” he said.

He said his union would not end its strike until the government agrees to immediately raise the minimum wage to $160.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said the ministry would meet once again with union leaders today to negotiate an end to the strikes and explain why an increase to $160 is just not possible.

“The meeting…will not be to discuss changing the wages. We will just explain to the unions and the people involved so they understand the position and the difficulties of GMAC,” he said.

The Labor Ministry also issued a statement Sunday lamenting GMAC’s decision to not take part in today’s talks with union leaders at the ministry.

“[T]he employers refused to participate in the Monday, December 30 meeting scheduled at the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training,” the ministry said.

“The ministry would like to express regret at the refusal of GMAC to participate in this meeting. Along with this, the ministry would like to express the regret for the damage and other impacts that have been caused by violent demonstrators in recent days.”

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