Special Economic Zone Strike in Svay Rieng Ends—For Now

An estimated 30,000 garment factory workers will resume work this morning after three days of strike action ended Wednesday when Svay Rieng provincial officials promised to help the strikers achieve their demands from factory owners.

The mass strike led the owner of the Tai Seng Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Svay Rieng to predict the departure of foreign investors from Cambodia because of the growing demands and militancy of workers.

“The workers now are the owners of the factories,” said Ly Song Hsin, owner of the Tai Seng SEZ where 22 factories, employing more than 10,000 workers, were shut by the strike.

“We always respond to their [workers] demands, but they never stop. We don’t know how much more they want,” Mr. Song Hsin said.

Chheng Chhoan, secretary-general of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), said that workers from 36 factories had begun protesting on Monday.

The factories are located in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone and Tai Seng SEZ.

According to Mr. Chhoan, the strikers are demanding a minimum monthly wage of $154, better working conditions in their factories, official annual leave, a boost to their daily meal allowance and the abandonment of fines imposed on workers during absences.

Mr. Chhoan said that union leaders and their thousands of members had agreed to return to work today after the intervention by the provincial department of labor, who “agreed to solve the problem.”

“Provincial labor department officials agreed with our protesters’ demands and told us that all the workers can return to their jobs tomorrow,” Mr. Chhoan said.

Ou Sokhoeun, deputy chief of the Svay Rieng provincial labor department, said that he met with three unions—CUMW, the Labor Union of Workers and the Collective Union of Khmer Workers—to discuss their demands.

The outcome of the meeting was a draft letter of the strikers’ demands that will now be sent to the owners of the 36 factories, he said.

“We solved the problem for the protesters by drafting a document of the protesters’ demands to send to the companies,” Mr. Sokhoeun said.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that the letter was only a measure to stop a small group of militant workers preventing others from working.

“I am sure there were less than 500 so-called strikers. Unfortunately, those 500 strikers prevented about 30,000 others from working. A lot of those workers were in fact trying to get to work,” he said.

Tai Seng SEZ owner Mr. Song Hsin said that most of the factory owners in his facility are Japanese and Taiwanese who have investments in Vietnam, but have factories in the border-hugging SEZ.

“Most investors here are considering to withdraw back to Vietnam,” he said.

“Even though the wages in Vietnam are higher, the workers there are more friendly,” he added.

Seng Yeak Mey, 22, a worker at the DK Inc. factory, said she joined the strike because a manager at her factory had used “bad words to look down on our Khmer workers.”

“We requested the companies to allow all of us to take annual leave, and to stop cutting our salary when we take a day off for personal reasons,” she said.

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