Unions, GMAC Tussle Over New Year Strike

Garment worker unions have tangled with factory owners over the unions’ plan to use the coming Khmer New Year holiday to launch a nationwide strike.

A coalition of eight unions will send a letter today to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) stating that workers will use their annual leave to extend the three-day holiday, which starts on April 14, through April 22.

“Since there have been requests from unions and union members in a variety of factories, they will exercise their right to continue their holiday after the Khmer New Year from 17 to 22 April…according to article 170 of the Labor Law,” the letter reads.

“Along with the days off, we request [the association] help solve some issues as soon as possible in order to ensure that buyers have confidence to continue to work with Cambodian garment and footwear producers and keep the sector sustainable,” the letter continues.

Article 170 of the Labor Law states that all employees have the right to 18 days of paid leave per year, but only after one year of service and with appropriate notice to employers, who must also approve the vacation time.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of GMAC, which represents about 450 garment and footwear factories employing about 500,000 workers, said the unions would be acting outside their mandate in sending a letter notifying association members about the expanded holiday.

“Any block request [for holidays] would be illegitimate,” Mr. Loo said.

“The unions have no right to apply for holidays on behalf of the workers and, in any case, any application would be subject to approval by management.”

Yaing Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said her members would go ahead and extend their holiday, regardless of the law.

“We have no choice. We have to do this since the government prevents us from demonstrating and striking,” Ms. Sophorn said.

“We will stand with workers and, with international support, we believe that this pressure will push the government to find the solution for our demands.”

In the letter, the unions ask GMAC to address seven demands, including the release of 21 prisoners who have been imprisoned since being arrested at garment protests that were violently suppressed in January.

The unions are also seeking an increase in the monthly minimum wage to $160.

A government study last year found that $157 was the minimum livable monthly wage in the country.

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