Workers Settle Wage Dispute

The wage dispute between factory managers and workers that turned violent Wednesday was resolved Thursday, leaving workers satisfied but labor observers concerned about the fate of the industry.

Thursday’s negotiating sessions between management and workers of Russei Keo district’s Mighti Spectra Knitting Factory produced a compromise on the piece rate workers will receive, allowing workers to return to work today, factory administrator Suong Ratana Thy said Thurs­day.

Angry that their piece rate had dropped from $20.60 to $12 since last year, workers held a three-day strike that culminated in the de­ployment of riot police, said Morm Nhim, president of the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia.

Police were deployed to control nearly 500 protesting workers, some of whom had thrown stones through factory windows.

Work­ers demanded that the piece rate be raised to $38, a wage the factory, which produces clothes for the US retailer Gap Inc, said it could not af­ford. Workers left the bargaining table with $26.40, Suong Ratana Thy said. Although Gap Inc did not officially react to the demonstration, a US Embassy official noted that the use of force to make a point could negatively affect the future of the industry.

“Unions have the right to strike, provided they’ve got a legitimate grievance and have exhausted all other avenues of dispute resolution,” the official said. “The violence that took place yesterday, however, is very un­fortunate and it could affect investors’ confidence.”

The sentiment was echoed by Lejo Sibbel, the International Labor Organization’s chief technical adviser, who said workers’ use of violence could affect investors looking to do business here.

Roger Tan, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said regardless of the violence, the country’s garment industry will suffer if workers continue to de­mand increased piece rates.

“There’s no indication that factories are moving out, but there are no new factories coming in,” he said.

Morm Nhim said workers’ demands were justified since, before the rate increase, laborers had to work too long and too hard to produce a single piece of sweater without due compensation.

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