Garment Workers Go Back on Strike Over Unpaid Wages

Thousands of garment workers from four factories have gone back on strike this week to protest a decision by their employers to withhold pay for the days they did not work during recent nationwide strikes.

Between 8,500 and 12,500 workers at four factories—two in Phnom Penh, one in Kandal and another in Kompong Cham—have gone back on strike, union representatives and workers said Tuesday.

“This is the second day of strikes by workers who are demanding that the two factories [in Phnom Penh] pay them because they cut their wages 100 percent for the time they were off during the strike,” said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.

Union representatives at the two other factories said workers there were striking for the same reason.

These latest strikes follow the largest garment sector strikes in years, during which workers demanding a doubling of the sector’s monthly minimum wage to $160 forced most of the country’s 500-plus factories to close down or scale back production for several days. With the government and factories refusing to push the minimum wage past $100, the strikes came to a violent end when police shot into a crowd of protesters outside a Phnom Penh factory on January 3, killing five and injuring dozens more.

Though the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia advised its members not to pay the returning workers for the days they were on strike, citing the country’s labor law, some factories have decided to pay their workers half their wages anyway.

According to unions, the factories where the workers have gone back on strike are refusing to pay them anything for the days they stayed away.

Cheam Sovan, a garment worker at Quality Textile in Phnom Penh, said she usually earns $140 a month, but the factory docked $18 for the days she was on strike last month. She said more than half the factory’s roughly 1,500 garment workers were now refusing to return.

“We want to negotiate with the company owner to demand that he pay all of us during the strike, but no one comes to meet us,” she said.

At Quint Major Industrial in Kandal, garment worker Yin Sam Oeun said that she and about 6,000 of her colleagues entered the factory on Tuesday and sat down at their stations but refused to do any work.

Peter Pan, the factory’s Taiwanese manager, put the number of strikers at only 2,000. But he confirmed that workers were not getting paid for the days they had stayed away during the last strike.

“I follow the law,” he said. “Some workers come here to work, I pay them 100 percent…. If they have no work to do, I pay them 50 percent. If the workers don’t come [and do] no work, I pay them nothing.”

Representatives for the other three factories could not be reached for comment.

Khieu Savuth, deputy director of the Labor Ministry’s labor conflict commission, confirmed that strikes had resumed at the four factories.

He said the ministry had advised all factories to pay their workers at least part of their wages for the time they were on strike in late December and early January and had referred the latest dispute to the country’s Arbitration Council.

The council’s executive director, Sok Lor, said he was trying to get the two sides to reach a compromise.

“We will invite the employers and the workers’ representatives to choose an arbitrator for each side, then we will have a hearing to find a solution,” he said. “But in case the two sides disagree with our compromise we will issue an order in accordance with the law.”

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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