National Road 2 Blocked by 2,000 Protesters

About 2,000 garment workers that make clothes for Swedish clothing brand H&M blocked National Road 2 in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district for two hours Wednesday, issuing a series of demands to increase their wages and improve working conditions.

The mostly women laborers working for the M&V International Manufacturing Limited factory swarmed onto the road at 8 a.m. and finished the protest shortly after 9:30 a.m., when factory and Ministry of Labor representatives agreed to negotiate with 10 of the protesters inside the factory.

A man carries his bicycle through a 2,000-strong crowd of protesting garment factory workers who blocked National Road 2 in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to demand better pay and work conditions. The workers, who make clothes for Swedish clothes brand H&M, stopped traffic for about 90 minutes. (Siv Channa)
A man carries his bicycle through a 2,000-strong crowd of protesting garment factory workers who blocked National Road 2 in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to demand better pay and work conditions. The workers, who make clothes for Swedish clothes brand H&M, stopped traffic for about 90 minutes. (Siv Channa)

“We decided to close the road to­day because the company hasn’t found a solution for all of us, and while we didn’t want to do this, we have no choice because the company owner refused to meet us,” said 20-year-old worker Ouk Chanda.

Ms. Chanda, who has worked for M&V for two years, said workers began making their demands on June 3, but that their demands had still not been met after representatives from the factory met Wednesday with management.

The workers want the company to stop docking pay from workers for every day they are sick or unable to come to work, and they want $1 per day allowance for food, an extra $5 for transport costs and a $3 bonus for working a public holiday.

Workers are also demanding that the factory stop firing women who are pregnant and give them paid leave instead.

Buth Bunchheang, a legal officer for the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said he attended the talks inside the factory, but that the factory owners and officials from the Ministry of Labor showed no intention to comply with the workers’ demands.

“The workers still have a strong stance to continue to pro­test unless they get an appropriate resolution,” he said.

Khieu Savuth, chief of the labor conflict commission in the Ministry of Labor, said the talks failed because the workers are making demands beyond the scope of the Labor Law.

“It is impossible to find a solution for the employees because they demanded more than the law allows, and the factory already implemented an $80 minimum wage in line with the law,” he said. Officials at the factory could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)

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