Staying at Home Not a Strike, Factories Say

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) warned garment workers on Thursday that they risk losing their jobs if they extend their Khmer New Year vacation by joining a stay-at-home strike.

Aiming to avoid police suppression of street protests for a higher garment sector minimum wage, the unions are asking workers to stay home for five days after the New Year holiday ends next Wednesday.

But in a newspaper advertisement, GMAC argues that a strike is only a strike if it takes place “within an enterprise or establishment,” citing the Labor Law. The ad also says that arrangements for annual leave can only be made between individual workers and their employers.

“There is no law giving unions or professional organizations the right to decide or request annual leave for individual workers,” the ad says. It warns that workers who stay home after the New Year would be legally exposed to punitive measures.

“Although some workers will not work to demand something from the employers, this action cannot be considered a strike, since they do not come to work and stay at the factory complex,” it says. “Not coming to work is considered an absence, for which they can face punishment or fines in accordance with the laws and rules on labor and the internal regulations of the company.”

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Unions of Movement of Workers, one of the unions planning the strike, said every garment worker should be able to make up his or her mind about whether to join.

He argued that the unions have every legal right to act on their members’ behalf and that it was the workers themselves who had asked unions to help.

“They [the workers] have annual leave to take off any time they want to,” he said. “Since we represent them, we ask for them according to the Labor Law…. The workers asked this of the unions, so we have to follow their demand.”

Mr. Sina noted, too, that at least four factories have given their workers permission to take off requested days after Khmer New Year. There are an estimated 400 garment factories nationwide.

At one of those factories in Phnom Penh, Ocean Garment, a man who answered the phone, but refused to identify himself, confirmed that the factory’s workers were given permission to take the extra days off.

“We allow the workers to be off from the 12th to the 21st since the unions asked, and we will not cut their [monthly] bonuses, but we will cut their base [daily] salaries,” he said.

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