Unions to Bring Demonstrations to Factory Gates

Despite a warning from the government to end demonstrations over the garment sector minimum wage by today, union leaders said Wednesday that workers would continue nationwide demonstrations after taking a one-day break to mark the new year.

Strikes and demonstrations have been ongoing since the government decided last week to raise the minimum wage to $95, well below union demands for a $160 monthly wage. A decision on Tuesday by Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng to raise the minimum wage by an additional $5, to $100, was rejected by the non-government aligned unions.

Morm Nhim, one of six union leaders who have been told they could face legal action if demonstrations do not stop, said that workers would hold demonstrations today at individual factories.

“Most of the workers took the day off for a holiday today, but they will continue to protest tomorrow at their factories to demand the minimum wage [of $160],” she said.

The Council of Ministers sent a letter to the Ministry of Labor on Monday advising it to revoke the license of unions that continue to protest and told state security forces to prepare to take unspecified action against unlawful demonstrations.

On Monday and Tuesday, thousands of garment workers gathered for mass demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Labor.

Kong Athit, vice president of the Cambodian Coalition for Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said that the demonstrations would include as many as 300,000 workers at 60 percent of garment factories across the country.

Leaders of the six unions involved in the demonstrations will meet in Phnom Penh tomorrow to discuss their future plans, Mr. Athit added.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that some of its member factories may open today, but said the association remains concerned over potential violence.

“I think what we will see is some factories open tomorrow, and then if they have problems they might close within a couple of hours. Some might not even want to consider taking that risk,” he said Wednesday.

Mr. Loo added that GMAC will appeal to the government today to facilitate the re-export of raw materials purchased by factories that are not able to meet production schedules due to the demonstrations.

“The idea is we need to shift production to another country and move raw materials we have out of Cambodia,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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