Though most of Tuesday’s wildcat strikes at textile factories had ended yesterday, workers from at least two factories continued work stoppages and said a newly announced increase to the minimum wage was unacceptably low, union officials said.
Free Trade Union President Chea Mony said yesterday that about 8,000 garment workers at a factory in Phnom Penh and another in Kompong Cham province were still on strike yesterday morning but that he had persuaded them to return to work today and accept the new minimum wage.
“We talked to workers, and they agreed to work again,” he said.
Though total participation remained unclear yesterday, ranging in estimate from 10,000 to 20,000 workers, Tuesday’s strikes occurred against the wishes of Mr Mony, who appeared isolated among his own members and those of other unions after reversing his opposition to a $5 minimum wage increase announced last week. Other unions say it is too little.
The wage increase was decided by the Labor Advisory Committee, a policy-making body comprised of industry, government and union representatives, and is slated to remain in place until 2014. The FTU supported the increase though it had previously threatened to strike unless wages rose by at least $20.
Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said his union planned a public rally soon to continue campaigning for higher wages.
Mr Mony acknowledged yesterday that some union members now disagreed with the FTU’s position on the minimum wage increase, but he claimed that the strikes had occurred because workers did not know they had been called off.
“The workers show that they don’t want this $5,” he said. “I also don’t agree with this $5, but I don’t have a choice” because the LAC has approved it.
However at Manhattan Textile Factory in Kompong Cham province’s Ampil commune, workers told a different story yesterday.
Yen Sokkheang, a worker representative at the factory, where the work stoppage involved several hundred people, said Mr Mony had visited the factory and told workers they should accept the new wage increase.
“Mr Mony came here and told us the [labor] ministry would only give us this much money,” he said, “Some agreed to go back to work so the rest [of the strikers] also agreed to work again.”
Mr Thon, the CCAWDU president, said he knew workers at three garment factories were still on strike yesterday, adding that more than 20,000 workers had gone on spontaneous strikes in ten factories on Tuesday.
“The workers themselves went on strike… [but] without union leadership it’s not successful,” he said.
Mr Thon said he knew members of his CCAWDU and the Cambodian National Confederation and many FTU members were against the new minimum wage level set by the labor committee.
“Around 90 percent of the workers are not happy about that,” he said, adding that he did not understand why the FTU leadership had not joined hands with CCAWDU and CNC to pressure employers to raise the minimum wage further.
“If he [Chea Mony] really wants to increase the wage, he should work together with other unions,” he said, “We want to work with Chea Mony.”
Mr Thon said CCAWDU and CNC were now planning to hold a public forum in Phnom Penh for all garment workers on July 25 in order to determine how the workers wanted to achieve a higher increase to the minimum wage.
“We will ask all the workers…. Then maybe we will [organize] strikes at the factory level to push the factory, especially to push” the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, he said, adding that his union wanted a minimum wage of $75 a month.
GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said most strikes had ended yesterday.
Mr Loo said Mr Thon’s public criticism of the LAC’s minimum wage decision and his plans to pressure employers were unacceptable, as CCAWDU was a member of the LAC and had to abide by the committee’s decisions.
“If he openly wants to object to the LAC, he should resign from the committee,” he said, adding, “Whether or not he’s under pressure from his members, he should accept the decision of the LAC.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said the fact that the initiative to strike had come from the workers and not the unions “clearly shows they need a further increase” of the minimum wage.
Mr Tola said he did not understand why the FTU had not listened to member demands and joined in efforts to seek a higher minimum wage.
“Other unions want to fight for the wage increase. Why does he [Chea Mony] not work with them?” he said.