Striking Garment Workers Ordered Back to Work

Thousands of garment workers who have been on strike for more than a week calling for more pay and better working conditions have been ordered back to work by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, according to court documents.

The workers walked off the job at the M&V International Manufacturing factory, which supplies global fashion retailer H&M, on May 19 to demand the management address 17 points, including an increase in their monthly transport allowance from $10 to $15 and a $1 daily lunch allowance.

A garment worker holds up a sign at a protest outside the M&V International Manufacturing factory in Phnom Penh's Meanchey district on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A garment worker holds up a sign at a protest outside the M&V International Manufacturing factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The case went before the Arbitration Council earlier this month, with the arbiters ordering the striking workers—who number about 2,000 out of 3,000 employees, according to workers and unionists—back to work on May 23.

The workers ignored the non-binding ruling and the case went before the municipal court. In a court document issued Tuesday and obtained Wednesday, Judge Heng Kesarou ordered them to “return to their workplace and duties within 48 hours after receiving this information” and until the court makes a ruling on the case.

“Workers who do not return to work within the timeline of 48 hours and do not have proper reason [for doing so] will be considered as committing a serious mistake,” Judge Kesarou said.

Eight unions, including the Cambodian Labor Union Federation, were also warned to “stop all activists that incite the workers.”

“The strike on May 19 and the series of strikes by the workers in which they were led by the unions is not in compliance with procedures and the Labor Law,” Judge Kesarou said.

Worker Hem Sreyneang, 32, said they would comply with the court order but would resume striking if no solution was found.

“We were striking legally because we gave seven days’ notice,” she said.

Prak Chanthoeun, director-general of the Labor Ministry’s labor conflict committee, said he told the unions that they would discuss the case but warned them “do not make situation get hotter.”

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