Strike Will Continue Today, Union Reports

Striking garment workers voted Sunday to continue the walkout that began last week, but it was unclear how many factories might be affected this morning.

“The strike will continue,’’ said Chea Vichea, the president of the Free Trade Union of the Work­ers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said Sunday.

He said workers have not de­cided whether they will gather in front of factories, take their protests to the streets, or stay home.

“We are worried about dispersal by the police or factory security,’’ he said. If conditions seem unsafe today, “many workers will stay home from work,’’  he said.

“The main priority for us is to avoid violence,’’ said Katja Hemmerich, union spokeswoman.

Workers and management alike were clearly shaken by the violence that erupted last Thursday when demonstrators storming a factory were dispersed by AK-47 rounds fired over their heads. Four were injured slightly, apparently by hurled rocks.

Over the weekend, progress was reported, as the country’s five major labor unions mostly agreed on a plan of action. No agreement was reached, however, on the thorniest issue of all—the minimum wage.

For months, the FTU has been demanding an increase in the minimum wage from $40 to $70, as well as other job improvements. Manufacturers have insisted they cannot afford it.

At a meeting last week of the Labor Advisory Council, both sides softened their stances slightly. Further progress oc­curred Saturday, when the unions agreed on five negotiating points:

• New, inexperienced hires to be paid at least $30 with a raise after two months on the job

• Meal allowances paid to those forced to work overtime

• Extra pay for those who miss no workdays each month

• Salary increases each year for the first three years

• Bonuses for workers after one year

The unions did not agree, however, on the minimum wage, which FTU workers say is the most important issue. The four other unions apparently agree on a modest wage increase but Chea Vichea said it was too small and he cannot support it.

Roger Tan, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association, said Sunday that unions don’t realize the multiplier effect of a minimum-wage hike.

He said a $5 increase works out to more like $20 once factors like overtime and piecework are added in. “Anything that rewards incentive or productivity, we are more likely to support,’’ he said.

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