Cambodian garment workers return to work as factories reopen, but striking unions chase workers off work

Source:Xinhua Published: 2014-1-2 14:01:08

A majority of garment and shoe workers have returned to work as factories reopened on Thursday after a week-long closure due to nationwide strikes over wage; however, protesting trade unions were still leading workers to go on strikes.

The country has about 900 garment and shoe factories with about 600,000 workers, according to Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour. The industry, the kingdom's largest foreign exchange earner, generated 5 billion US dollars in revenues a year.

"On Thursday morning, about 500 factories have reopened and some 80 percent of the workers have returned to work," he told Xinhua.

About 400 factories were still closed in fear of security and safety, he said, adding that striking workers were rallying in front of more than 30 factories to demand the government to double the minimum wage in the garment sector to 160 US dollars.

"We hope that the situation will get better since the authorities have been taking serious actions against protestors who incite workers to join their outlawed protests and destroy factories' property," he said.

Sok Na, a representative for the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) at the Best Way garment factory at the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in eastern Svay Rieng Province, said about 90 percent of the workers in the zone returned to work on Thursday.

"Workers now agreed to accept the 100 US dollars minimum wage that the government announced on Tuesday," he told Xinhua over telephone. "They all need jobs to support ourselves and families."

The workers returned to work after the government decided on Tuesday to raise the minimum wage in the garment sector to 100 US dollars from the current 80 US dollars a month; however, the six pro-opposition trade unions, which have led strikes since on Wednesday last week, have vowed to go on strikes to demand the government to double the minimum wage.

Rong Chhun, president of the pro-opposition Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said the six trade unions set a three-day ultimatum to the government and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) to restart talks over higher wage in the garment sector.

"If within three days, they do not continue talks over wage hike, we will lead bigger strikes," he warned in a press conference on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, a few hundreds of workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone have continued their strikes and entered factories to force other workers to join their protests. As a result, the factories in the zone were closed again.

Ken Loo, GMAC's Secretary General, said the situation in the garment industry remained bad on Thursday since striking workers unlawfully entered factories to force workers to join their protests.

"The situation remains bad because after the workers started working on Thursday morning, gangsters in the striking unions had entered the factories to chase them out, so now most of the factories released all the workers, and the factories are closed again," he told Xinhua.

Ros Chantraboth, advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said that the outlawed garment protests, incited by the country's main opposition party, are trying to destroy workers' rice pots and drive investors away from Cambodia.

"Those outlawed protests are the act of national destruction. If investors run away and all the factories close, what are the fates for more than 600,000 Cambodian garment workers and their families?" he said.

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