No End in Sight for Svay Rieng SEZ Strikes

A union official at the center of a strike that started last Monday and involves an estimated 30,000 workers from two special economic zones (SEZs) in Svay Rieng province said Sunday that he has no control over the strikers, and does not know when or if they will return to work.

The 36 factories involved in the strike remained shut and workers remained at home on Friday and over the weekend in Bavet City’s Manhattan and Tai Seng Bavet SEZs, said Chheng Chhoan, secretary-general of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.

“I’m not sure if they’ll come back to work or not. I’ve tried to explain to those workers that, on the minimum wage topic, a solution might not be found now,” he said.

“I explained to them all that if they do not come back to work, there will be no good results, but they don’t listen to me. Most just say they will not come back to work unless their demands are met with success.”

The strikers have said they will continue protesting until their minimum monthly wage is increased to $154.

The Labor Advisory Council (LAC) is set to meet on Tuesday to decide on proposals to increase the minimum wage. The Council of Ministers on Friday decided to recommend incremental yearly minimum wage increases to bring it to $160 by 2018.

Mr. Chhoan on Tuesday negotiated an apparent end to the strike with provincial officials, but workers rejected the agreement the next day, and instead pelted some of the factories with rocks.

Thirteen of the strike leaders were briefly detained and “educated” by police, and the workers returned to their homes, where they have since remained, Mr. Chhoan said.

The workers say that the agreement to table their pay increase demand at the LAC meeting this week is not enough, and are demanding an immediate increase of their wage to $154.

Prak Chanthoeun, director-general of the department of labor conflict at the Ministry of Labor, said Sunday there was little the government could do to placate the strikers, as it had already submitted its proposal to increase the minimum wage to $160 over the next five years.

Seng Yeak Mey, 22, a worker who has been participating in the strike, reiterated that industrial action would continue until the minimum wage is increased to $154.

“We will go to our factories tomorrow, but that does not mean we will agree to work,” she said.

Meas Sokna, 31, another striking worker, agreed, adding that strikes would break out elsewhere as well if the Council of Ministers’ five-year incremental increase proposal is adopted officially at the LAC meeting.

“We all want to raise the wage now. We cannot wait until next year because the price of goods have already gone up,” he said.

Ly Hong Shin, the chairman of the Tai Seng Bavet SEZ, agreed there is no clear end to the strike in sight since workers are unsatisfied by the formal wage talks.

“What can I do for these workers? How can they come back when their demands are outside of the law,” he said.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that a “minority” of the striking garment workers should not be able to continue preventing others from working for long.

“This is being conducted illegally with a small number of the workers going around…and preventing others from working. Let’s see if they can continue or not,” he said.

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