Garment Workers Told to Come to Work, Not Fear Conflict

The Ministry of Social Affairs on Tuesday told the country’s 600,000 garment workers not to believe rumors of war and to continue with work as usual in the wake of a national election that has seen disputed results and threats of instability.

“For the past few days, there have been rumors about chaos and plans for demonstrations which will lead to war causing all garment factory workers, manufacturers, unions and the public to be fearful,” Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng said in a statement.

“Please, all employees, unions, and employers, continue with production and business should go on as normal for your work and your living. Please don’t believe the rumors and spread them around,” the statement continues.

The minister’s letter comes after both the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP claimed victory in the July 28 election that the CNRP claims was plagued by widespread irregularities.

Prior to the election, and again last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen raised the possibility of civil war should his CPP lose the election. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has said the CNRP will organize mass protests if the results are not thoroughly investigated, and Interior Minister Sar Kheng has warned of “trouble” should negotiations with the opposition stall on the issue of voting irregularities.

But Mr. Sam Heng was optimistic in his statement Tuesday.

“In the end, all the political parties will always find a resolution for a stable society,” he said in the statement that was sent to unions and garment factories.

“Inciting the rumors is threatening and scary and it is illegal action that is caused by extremist groups, and the authorities will find them and take action by the law,” the minister said.

It was not known Tuesday if the minister was referring directly to Mr. Hun Sen’s warnings.

The minister also promised in his statement that the government would discuss increasing garment factory wages in 2014.

As part of its election platform the opposition promised garment workers a higher minimum wage.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, estimated that some 20 percent of garment workers have yet to return to work since the election.

“We want the garment workers’ hearts to be stable and know that nothing bad will happen,” Mr. Mean said.

“We hope that both big parties will negotiate to find a solution for our nation.”

Due to fear of instability, many returning workers are requesting their salaries be paid daily rather than every two weeks, said Ath Thon, director of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.

“Workers are going back to work but they are afraid of the situation, like there would be problems in creating the new government,” Mr. Thon said. “So workers are asking the company to pay their salary immediately.”

For New Archid Garment Factory in Kandal province, which employs some 3,000 workers, operations resumed on July 30 and have been running smoothly, according to Oeun Samol, compliance supervisor.

“We heard the rumor, but it doesn’t matter because everybody came back to work,” Mr. Samol said. “I don’t think they care too much about it.”

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