Groups Demand Mandatory Minimum Wage, Threaten Protest

About 100 people, including 20 monks, held a ceremony in Phnom Penh on Friday in memory of the five people killed a week beforehand when military police opened fire on protesting garment workers, and demanded that the government introduce a mandatory, sector-wide standard minimum wage.

In Sen Sok district’s Toek Thla commune, representatives from seven advocacy groups and unions said they stood in solidarity with the garment workers, who are calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $160 per month, but said such a sum should be introduced in other sectors too.

The groups, which included the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community and the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, also called for the release of 23 strikers, activists and union representatives are detained in Kompong Cham province’s maximum security Correctional Center 3 (CC3) after their arrest last week.

“We demand the release of the 23 detained people, we demand the end of violence in all situations and we demand $160 for workers in all sectors; the government should not only negotiate with the sewing sector,” said Heng Sam Orn, secretary-general of the Independent Democracy of Information Economy Association, a group that represents tuk-tuk drivers and other informal workers.

Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation, said he could not accept the government’s recent violent actions and insisted that a demonstration would proceed with or without approval.

“If they do not release the 23 people, we will gather in public in Phnom Penh by the end of the month, even if City Hall or the government prevents us—we will not worry about this,” he said.

Mr. Mora also echoed the call for a nationwide minimum wage, as well as a separate call made on Thursday for civil servants to strike in demand of a $250 minimum wage.

On January 4, the Interior Ministry indefinitely suspended articles in the Constitution that pertain to the right to freedom of expression and assembly, banning public gatherings of 10 or more people.

Similar memorial gatherings for the five slain protesters were also held in Siem Reap, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Preah Sihanouk provinces on Friday.

Friday’s ceremonies also coincided with what has been called a Global Week of Action—organized by the Thailand-based Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development—against Mr. Hun Sen’s CPP government for its deadly suppression of the garment protests.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions held a demonstration in Seoul on Friday outside the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a rally was also held at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok.

In Hong Kong, a video posted to YouTube showed trade unionists and labor rights activists outside the Cambodian Consulate confronting a representative of the Consul-General, Chheang Thyra.

According to news reports, Malaysian NGO and union representatives on Friday handed a petition to Cambodian Embassy officials in Kuala Lumpur, which called for the release of the 23 prisoners, and condemned the “extreme” use of force against striking garment workers.

In Jakarta, pictures circulated online showed protesters holding up signs, one of which read: “Don’t kill our comrades in Cambodia.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the international demonstrators needed to get their facts straight about the killed and wounded.

“They are far from the facts and only receive manipulated information and polarized information. Ninety-nine percent of employees are working normally back in their factories,” he maintained.

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