Garment Workers Conclude 3-Day Protest

Thousands of garment workers were to report to work this morning after three days of marching and demonstrating throughout the city for higher wages and union rights.

The mass demonstrations, involving crowds estimated at up to 10,000 people, ended peacefully at noon Wednesday in front of the Ministry of Commerce.

That was just one of the sites the workers visited during the three days of protests, which began with a May 1 rally Monday at Olympic Stadium.

They also staged rallies at the ministries of Finance, Social Affairs and Justice; the Municipal Court; the National Assembly and European Union headquarters. Union organizers said they did not receive a response from officials at any of those locations.

Rally organizer Chea Vichea of the Free Trade Union of Wor­kers of the Kingdom of Cam­bodia said workers will rally again June 18 “if we have no solution from the government.’’

The demonstration deepened to a strike Tuesday and Wed­nesday, as workers demanded a salary increase from $40 a month to $70 a month. They are also seeking guarantees workers will not be punished or fired for union activities, which they claim has been happened recently.

“Our aim is to increase our salaries, and appeal to all the owners to stop violence in the factories,’’ said Long Savann, 24, who works at Industry Co Ltd.

About 30 factories were forced to closed down on Tuesday and Wednesday, due to workers involved in the demonstrations. The peaceful events were in marked contrast to labor marches last February, when police were accused of beating workers.

Industry officials said they are pleased the job actions appear to be over. “We hope that life will be back to normal,’’ said Roger Tan, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association.

He said that due to competitive pressures, the manufacturers cannot meet the demands for a $30 a month increase in salaries.

“These investors have companies in all these other countries,’’ such as India and China, he said.

“When costs in Cambodia grow too high, they will simply relocate operations to less-expensive countries,” he said.

“We hope the government can understand that the future of Cambodia depends on a smooth business operation’’ for the garment manufacturers, he said.

(Additional reporting by Jody McPhillips)

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