Unions Threaten To Step Up Strike Action Next Month

Trade unions yesterday reaffirmed plans to go on strike next month as part of a campaign to increase the minimum wage and threatened to increase the number of workers who have already agreed to strike to more than 100,000.

Last week, Ath Thon, chairman of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, which claims to have 110,000 members, said unions had collected more than 60,000 thumbprints from workers across the country who supported a strike due to take place from Sept 13 to 18.

“I want to say that we will achieve this campaign,” Mr Thon said yesterday. “What the government is doing makes garment workers unhappy.”

Disagreements between unions and employers have arisen over a July 8 decision by the Labor Advisory Committee, a body comprising employers as well as government and government-aligned union representatives, which approved a raise of $5 to $61 per month starting from October.

Unions say that workers need between $75 and $93 to meet Phnom Penh living expenses.

Those in the industry, however, say that margins in the garment sector are already slim enough, especially with prices having dropped by 10 percent over the last year due to particularly high levels of commercial competition.

Speaking at a workshop yesterday designed to provide knowledge to the industry on how to implement the newly adopted minimum wage, Cheath Khemara, senior labor officer for the Garments Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that unions had to respect the recent decision over the minimum wage, which was agreed to by 20 of the Labor Advisory Committee’s 25 members.

“This is a national decision and it has been officially accepted,” he said.

In Khemera, director of the Labor Ministry’s inspection department, said garment workers would not be able to squeeze anything more out of their employers.

The decision “must guarantee the employer can afford the minimum wage,” he said.

GMAC secretary-General Ken Loo said it was still unclear if 60,000 workers would actually go on strike. The industry currently employs about 285,000 people.

“We aren’t sure that they [the workers] were sure what they were thumbprinting for,” he said. “Of course any work stoppage is not good for the industry.”

Mr Loo added that any strike action would likely demand government action.

“They are not going to conduct themselves in accordance with what a strike or industrial action should look like,” he said, pointing to previous strikes that have resulted in workers blocking the gates to factories. “You are allowed to strike but not by affecting those who want to go to work.”

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, which claims a membership of 86,000 workers, said yesterday that members from his union would not participate in the strike.


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