At the New Orient garment factory in the capital’s Meanchey district, workers are gearing up for the series of strikes that seem set to bring the industry to a halt next week.
“I am sure to go on strike to express my commitment to get a higher wage,” said Nob Saveth, one of many workers who seemed eager to get started as they returned to the factory after lunch yesterday.
On Wednesday, the Cambodian Labor Confederation issued an ultimatum to garment manufacturers saying it would proceed with a week of strikes on Monday unless negotiations on salary supplements began immediately. The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia said negotiations would not take place at this time.
The 1,500 workers at New Orient, located in the Canadia Industrial Park in Stung Meanchey commune, are almost all represented by the CLC and are all taking part in the strikes, according to on-site union representative Bun Vann. Factory representatives declined to comment yesterday.
However workers from other factories in the complex seemed either uninterested, or unaware of the strikes.
Un Sarouen, who works at another factory in the Canadia Park, said he had heard about the strikes, but thought it would be “difficult” to get involved. Others, like factory workers Thuch Mon and Mak Eng, had no idea the strikes were planned.
According to the CLC, more than a quarter of the 297,000 workers employed in the industry will not be working next week.
CLC Secretary-General Kong Athit said more than 80,000 workers from around 80 factories had confirmed their participation in the strikes. He said he expected unaffiliated workers and those from other unions to join once the strikes were under way.
The largest walkouts will be in Kandal Province, where 35,000 garment workers will take part, he said. Another 20,000 from 12 factories in the capital will also strike, Mr Athit said.
At least 10,000 workers represented by the Cambodian National Confederation are also expected to turn out, he added.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said the strikes could proceed as long as strikers followed the law.
“If they are conducted by the law, they will go on. If they are far away from the law we will take action,” he said.
Maing Pich, police chief in Kandal Province’s Sa’ang district said he was not concerned about the strikes.
“It occasionally happens in my district but it did not cause any problems,” he said.
Mr Athit said the strikes were far bigger than any the union had organized before.
“We feel it’s very hard. It is the first time [we] organize like that,” he said.
Previous attempts to organize mass work stoppages have met with limited success. In March 2008 the Free Trade Union organized a series of strikes calling for the minimum wage to be raised from $50, as it was then, to $55. They planned stoppages at 148 factories, in the capital and five provinces.
The effort ended in disarray. FTU President Chea Mony tried to halt the strikes at the last minute following conciliatory advances from employers. In the end, only 20 factories were involved in the shutdown and the minimum wage remained at $50.
Mr Mony has repeatedly said the FTU will not be participating in next week’s strikes, though he applauded the CLC’s efforts yesterday.
“The important thing is that they are now successful to lead such a big strike,” Mr Mony said. “If their leadership fails, they will lose their reputation and workers will not believe in them.”
“If they act with a clear vision they will be successful. I have taken all these steps already,” he said.