Strikes End As Rally Actions Take Shape

Workers at textile factories went back to work yesterday after two days of wildcat strikes. Two unions also said they were making preparations for a large rally in Phnom Penh next week to as part of a campaign against the newly announced minimum wage.

Ath Thon, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, which comprises the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union and the Cambodian National Confederation, said yesterday that the spontaneous strikes of Tuesday and Wednesday had ceased.

“I don’t know of any more strikes,” he said. “The reason they stopped is that [the unions] together talked to the workers to stop.”

Mr Thon said the CLC on Wednesday had sent a letter to inform Phnom Penh City Hall it would hold a public forum for workers at Wat Botum Park on the morning of July 25.

He said all garment workers would be invited to join and that they would be asked whether further strikes should occur to seek a minimum wage increase to at least $75 a month. Workers would also consider other demands, such as establishing yearly wage negotiations.

“We invite all garment workers. The target is my members and other [union] members… My expectation is that more than 10,000 workers will come,” he said.

Mr Thon said he had received no indication from other unions, such as the Free Trade Union, as to whether they support the public forum.

“I don’t hear anything from FTU. I invited [FTU President] Chea Mony and other federations to join us.”

The Labor Advisory Committee, a policy-making body composed of industry, government and union representatives, instituted a $5 increase in the minimum wage to $61 per month for the 297,000 workers employed in the textile industry, a decision slated to remain in place until 2014.

The FTU decided on Monday to support the increase even though it had previously threatened to strike unless wages rose by at least $20.

However, rising resentment against the LAC’s decision resulted in spontaneous strikes that involved between 10,000 and 20,000 garment workers, including many FTU members.

FTU President Chea Mony subsequently visited striking factories to persuade members to resume work and accept the LAC’s $5 increase as an irrevocable decision, promising them only to continue to campaign for improved working conditions and bonuses.

Mr Mony said yesterday morning that all strikes had ended, but he could not be reached later for a reaction to the CLC’s plans to hold a public forum.

Chet Samphorse, a worker at Chinese-owned Berry Apparel Cambodia, where workers struck this week, said all workers had resumed work yesterday but that they were deeply disappointed to accept a $5 wage increase.

“We did not win even on one point. All the workers look sad. We are working now but no one looks happy,” she said.

Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said the CLC’s public forum was a good initiative to consult garment workers about their willingness to take further actions to gain a higher wage.

“There should be space for the workers to express their opinion about the [LAC’s] decision,” he said, “If a lot of people come, also from other unions, it shows there’s no support for the [LAC’s] decision.”


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