Garment Factory Suspensions Lifted; Strikers Return to Work

A weeklong garment factory strike over paid leave to vote in local elections came to an end on Saturday, with workers ceding pay for all but one day of the protest period after the government intervened to have 11 workers who were suspended during the dispute reinstated, officials said.

The protest began ahead of the commune elections on June 4 after workers at the Southland factory in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district were denied a request for extra paid leave—in addition to their 18 annual days—to return to their respective home communes to vote.

On Wednesday, nearly 2,000 garment workers extended the strike after 11 workers—including 10 union activists—were suspended over the dispute, spurring at least 1,000 workers to sign a petition asking for the Labor Ministry’s help.

cam photo garment hawkins KHMER
Striking workers stand outside the gates of the Southland garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Choam Chao commune last week to heckle workers leaving for the day. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

Discussions on Friday between ministry representatives, the 11 suspended workers and factory representatives resulted in the group being reinstated and the strike being called off as of Saturday morning, said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW).

Negotiations for compensation were dismissed after the group was rehired, he added, but CUMW would “continue following and observing the general situation.”

According to Seang Vichet, who was among the group of 11, workers’ pay and annual leave would be cut to compensate for all but the first day of absence from work, while other benefits would not be affected.

“It is a biased resolution that is not acceptable, but we want to be on good terms and we don’t want to continue” the strike, Mr. Vichet said. “The workers also accepted it because they want all of us to be reinstated.”

The government-backed Cambodian Union Federation (CUF)—which workers and CUMW claim have deducted union fees from non-members—did not participate in the negotiations, Mr. Vichet added.

Neither CUF president Chuon Mom Thol nor ministry spokesman Heng Sour could be reached for comment.

Moeun Tola, executive director of labor rights organization Central, lauded the government’s intervention on behalf of the suspended workers, whom he said had been illegally suspended since the Labor Ministry had not approved the action against the union activists.

But considering the losses to both the factory and workers caused by the dispute, the government should outline new election-leave requirements for factory workers ahead of next year’s national election, he added.

“The elections are important to people. The government has the obligation to enable people to vote,” Mr. Tola said. “Why not find a win-win way so the workers can work and the companies can operate in a peaceful way?”

(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the petition to the Labor Ministry included a claim that CUF was demanding union fees from non-members. Workers made this claim to reporters separately. It also stated that the workers were denied paid leave over the commune elections. They were denied paid leave in addition to their 18 annual days.

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