Up to 30 Factories Idled by Worker Marches

What began as a demonstration deepened into a strike Tues­day, as thousands of garment work­ers marched through the city for a second day.

The workers, from 30 factories in the Phnom Penh area, demonstrated in front of the Mun­icipal Court, the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Fi­nance.

But while Monday’s rally and march was dismissed by Prime Minister Hun Sen as a holiday disruption, Tues­day’s events kept workers off the job and forced as many as 30 factories to close, according to in­dustry officials.

One industry official said manufacturers are growing increasingly concerned about the interruption of business and he called on the government to act.

“This is a matter the government must handle,’’ said Roger Tan, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Associa­tion. “These demonstrations are creating disruption of work and problems for the factories.’’

Organizers estimated Tues­day’s turnout as even larger than Monday’s crowd of 10,000. Un­like last February’s demonstrations, when police were accused of beating demonstrators, no prob­lems were reported.

The workers plan to march again today to the ministries of Social Affairs and Commerce, and municipal officials say they ex­pect today’s events to be peaceful as well.

“They have permits’’ for a third day, said Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara. “I am sure there will be no violence, no problems.’’

Labor leaders say they have told the workers that refusing to work for a third day may not be a wise move, but said the workers vot­ed to demonstrate anyway.

“This is a spontaneous kind of workers’ movement,’’ said Katja

Hemmerich of the Free Trade Un­ion of Workers of the King­dom of Cambodia. “Employers have told us they are not in favor of this.

“The workers are aware that there may be consequences’’ to continuing the walkout, she said. “But overwhelmingly, they want to continue.’’ She said she be­lieves today’s demonstration will be the last.

Tan of the Garment Manufact­urers Association said he certainly hopes so.

If the situation does not soon quiet down, he said, “investors will stop coming to Cambod­ia….It’s up to the government to protect investors and create a good climate’’ for business.

He said he does not believe the workers understand the economic consequences of their acts. Their demand to increase sal­ar­ies from $40 to $70 a month would price Cambodian goods out of the market, he said.

Since the labor unrest began 18 months ago, Tan said, “We have made considerable concessions….But if costs get too high, we are competing with India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, China—and business will simply go there.”

The marchers certainly understand how their own lives would be affected by a pay raise. Chib Rem, a 25-year-old packer for the Gennon Cam­bodia Garment Factory, said work­ers just can’t live on $40 per month as prices for transportation and housing keep going up.

Heng Many, 27, of the Jin Chan Cambodian Clothing Co Ltd, said higher salaries would let them live a bit better and improve their childrens’ education.

And Phann Phor, 27, of the PCCS Garment Co Ltd, said the issues were so important at his factory that every single employee has joined the demonstrations.

 

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