Free Trade Union garment workers from at least 20 factories went on strike Thursday, continuing their push for a $5 raise to the minimum wage, despite efforts by the FTU to delay the strike until a Monday meeting of the National Assembly’s labor commission, officials said.
FTU President Chea Mony said he was running around throughout Thursday trying to notify workers to not strike until after Monday’s meeting, but that workers at an estimated 30 factories had already gone on strike Thursday morning.
“I am trying to tell the workers to hold off on the strike,” he said, adding that he succeeded in getting through to most workers by noon Thursday.
“I believe they will be working normally” today, he said.
Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia Chairman Van Sou Ieng expressed disappointment Thursday that FTU members at 24 GMAC-affiliated factories had gone on strike, saying they should have waited until Monday’s meeting.
“We ask them to cooperate with the law and respect procedures before going on strike,” he said, adding that any negotiations now would be under “duress” and therefore necessarily unfair.
“The workers need to calm down. They are destroying their own food, their own revenue,” Van Sou Ieng said.
“There was no violence, but there were some opportunists who threw rocks and incited garment factory workers to stop working,” said GMAC Deputy Chief Kong Sang.
Chea Mony said he hadn’t heard of any stone-throwing, but said that FTU members wouldn’t do such a thing.
Labor Ministry Undersecretary of State Oum Mean downplayed the strikes, calling them small-scale and “insignificant.”
“Only 20 factories out of 500 went on strike,” he said, adding that of Cambodia’s 30 different unions, only the FTU was calling for a strike.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote a letter to four ministries—including the Labor and Commerce ministries—urging them to consider raising the minimum wage because of the diminished value of the US dollar and the realities of inflation.
“Consider supplementing the salary of workers in order to maintain the stability of salaries and consumer prices in the market,” Hun Sen wrote in the letter.
Oum Mean said his ministry will be working to solve the issue with Hun Sen’s letter in mind at the labor commission meeting Monday.
John Ritchotte, a chief technical adviser at the International Labor Organization, called the strikes a “fairly important development” that demonstrated the strength of the union movement in Cambodia.
“It shows the ability of the union movement to be able to make demands on management,” he said, adding that the strikes are also a testament to the impact of inflation.
“People are really feeling the pinch and respond quickly to any suggestion that they could make an across-the-board change,” he said.
SRP Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua said she thinks the prime minister had the upcoming election in mind when he wrote his letter Wednesday, but she said it is nonetheless a welcome development.
“[Hun Sen] has listened to the workers, but it is SRP’s wish for this to have happened a long time ago,” Mu Sochua said.