Despite a peaceful May Day demonstration Tuesday, and assurances from union leaders that workers would not continue strikes this week, some protests were reported Wednesday.
Thousands of workers who went on strike at scattered factories outside of Phnom Penh and in Kandal province angered garment sector officials, who had obtained promises from the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia there would not be any walkouts.
Workers have been asking for a shortened work week, from 48 to 44 hours, but it was unclear Wednesday whether this demand was the main thrust of the strikes. At least seven factories were affected by the strikes, said both union and management officials.
Of most concern to members of the Labor Advisory Committee, a new body comprised of union leaders, management and the government, was the “broken promise” from the Free Trade Union.
“It’s not that many” factories, said Chuon Mum Thal, president of the Cambodia Union Federation. “My concern is that the Free Trade Union broke its promise.”
“I guaranteed this in front of [LAC members] that there wouldn’t be a strike,” said Chuon Mum Thal, who is on the committee. “I was disappointed.”
Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union, said he tried to end all strikes, but some leaders “did not understand and they made the strike by themselves,” he said.
Some truckloads of demonstrators were kept out of the city by authorities, and some workers were kept away from the demonstrations by management, who threw parties or arranged tours to provinces like Sihanoukville for May Day, Chea Vichea said.
“It was a mistake from the government and employees,” he said.
Nevertheless, some members of the Labor Advisory Committee would not accept that.
“It is irresponsible to say that if he’s not able to command his members,” said Van Sou Ieng, LAC vice chairman and chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia.
The strikes, however, would not affect whether the committee discusses a shorter work week at its next meeting, he said.
Whether the strikes upset other officials in ongoing labor debates did not concern Chea Vichea.
“They’re angry with me a lot already,” he said, adding that the strikes Wednesday were good “to show the government and employers that we can strike.”