Garment workers from two factories descended on the Labor Ministry Thursday morning as talks over their separate wage demands began and then broke down within a matter of hours.
About 60 workers from Ocean Garment factory, which suspended operations on May 26 and ignored an Arbitration Council ruling to pay wages during the shutdown period, turned up to the negotiations at 8.30 a.m. but factory representatives were a no-show.
Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union Movement of Workers (CUMW), said that officials from the Ministry of Labor’s department of labor conflict advised workers to take an offer from Ocean Garment of $100 for staff employed for more than six months and $50 for those who have worked for less than six months.
“Some workers have now agreed to take that money because they badly need to pay for living costs such as rent,” he said.
However, Mr. Sina said protests would continue, even if the factory makes its payout, until workers receive their full wages and benefits in line with the Arbitration Council directive.
Theang Thy, a 37-year-old worker at Ocean Garment, said that workers would take action if the factory did not offer more money.
“We might even block the entrance to Phnom Penh airport,” she said. “It is only Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen who can resolve this issue for us. If he does not help there is no hope.”
Tith Sophoan, a human resources officer at Ocean Garment, did not know why the factory owner failed to attend the negotiations but said workers would not receive anything if they kept protesting.
He added that the factory on Thursday asked the Pur Senchey district authorities to deploy police to protect its property.
“If we not do this, the workers and union will do everything they can to damage the factory,” he said.
Soon after the Ocean workers left at 10 a.m., about 90 employees from Sun Well Shoes factory arrived at the ministry for their own wage negotiations.
About 1,000 workers began a strike on Tuesday to demand seven points including a monthly $5 attendance bonus, a $15 per month travel and accommodation subsidy, severance pay and better safety equipment.
Voang Malen, a 25-year-old worker, said a small group had made their way to the Labor Ministry as they wanted to hear the result of the talks straight away.
“Our salaries are low and not enough to live on, so we have to strike,” she said.
Sieng Sambath, president of the Worker Friendship Union Federation, said negotiations ended after just two and a half hours.
He criticized Sun Well Shoes’ management for enlisting the RCAF Brigade 70 to guard the factory site.
“I don’t understand why the factory does not resolve this dispute when they are able to hire soldiers to protect the factory,” he said.
Liu Chhiv Mey, Sun Well’s administrative director, said the factory could not afford to meet the workers’ demands.
“We did not hire the soldiers, they are just there to deal with the traffic jam and to control the area,” she said.