Tens of thousands of Cambodia’s garment workers participated in a nationwide strike to press the government to raise the monthly minimum wage to $160 dollars. The current minimum wage is only $80 dollars and the labor council is only willing to grant a $15 dollar hike in basic pay. A government official also told workers that the demand for a $160 minimum wage will be met only in 2018.
The garment sector is a $5 billion dollar export industry in Cambodia which employs more than 600,000 workers.
Striking workers put roadblocks in Phnom Penh aside from protesting in front of the Ministry of Labor. As strikes continued to grow, factories were told to cease operations. John Vink reports:
The roadblock in front of the Ministry of Labour was kept all through the day by workers striking for a salary rise.
Another roadblock, in front of the Special Economic Zone in Kambol, some 19 km outside of Phnom Penh, was set up by striking workers after they were pushed back by riot police when trying to enter the SEZ. The SEZ was sealed off with a double layer of containers and fences with barbed wire.
If the minimum wage is not raised to $160 immediately, rising food prices and living expenses will make it impossible for garment workers to address their basic needs, and strikes that have pledged the garment sector lately will continue.
The opposition has been holding daily protests at the Phnom Penh Freedom Park to press for the ouster of the incumbent government which has been accused of manipulating this year’s election results. Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power in the past three decades although his party lost many seats in the recent parliamentary polls.
Many workers have joined the opposition rally which could further undermine the Hun Sen administration. Labor unions have vowed to continue the protests until their demand is granted by the government.
Meanwhile, factory owners have warned that the ongoing strikes will negatively affect the local economy and the conditions of workers. They also urged the government to adopt a ‘zero tolerance on illegal strikes.’ This appeal was criticized by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights which wants to address the ‘root causes of the labor dispute’:
CCHR is concerned that such statements calling for zero-tolerance on illegal strikes will only exacerbate problems within the garment sector. Regardless of the legality of the strike, a zero-tolerance policy will only ignore the root causes of the labor dispute and most likely lead to further violent crack downs against workers and union members.
The current strike has put a spotlight on the plight of garment workers in Cambodia and in particular the necessity for the government and the garment industry to come up with a better plan on how to improve the welfare of workers.
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