On Monday, thousands of Cambodian garment workers from more than thirty factories took to the streets both to protest the current minimum wage and to demand a bonus of $50 they claim was promised to them.
Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement Workers, speaking to China Weekly, said, “Workers at those factories go on strikes Monday to demand the 50 U.S. dollars bonus pay. They will protest until factories give them the bonus.”
The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), a nongovernmental trade organization that represents factory owners, denies that such a promise was ever issued to workers. They claim unions fabricated the promise to agitate workers into further demonstrations.
GMAC requested that the Cambodian government outlaw the worker protests which now roll through eastern Bavet City. In a publicly dispatched statement, the organization urged the government to act quickly to restore order. “GMAC is disappointed that the government and local authorities let such illegal action happen and have no effective measures to prevent it. We’d like to appeal to the Ministry of Labor and local authorities to implement their roles in curbing these illegal strikes immediately in order to ensure security and safety for investors and workers who wish to work.”
The protests are organized by a consortia of eighteen unions, led by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC). The central demand of the workers is that the minimum wage immediately rise to $160 per month. For months now, the issue of the minimum wage has been a hotly contested one, and only yielding progress in halting fits and starts. Initially, the Labour Advisory Committee reported a $15 increase in monthly wages, effective April 1, 2014. Under the newly accepted plan, the minimum wage will rise incrementally over the next five years, lifting it from its current $80 per month to more than $160 per month. In 2015, the monthly minimum wage is set to increase again by $15, then by $16 in 2016, $17 in 2017 and, finally, $17 in 2018.
Unions, however, have insisted that the minimum wage be increased to $160 per month immediately, promising to continue demonstrations until that demand is finally met. Sina said, “Workers will continue with their protests because the new increase isn’t much different from the previous offer. We call on the government to find more mechanisms to increase workers’ wages to a suitable level.”
The CCC is also asking that twenty-one garment workers imprisoned in January as part of a police crackdown on labor agitators be released right away and their charges expunged from the record. The organization also wants the general right to collective bargaining and the freedom of association to be legally recognized.
Unions, too, have been pressuring the government to intervene and settle the ongoing dispute between factory workers and owners and say they have exhausted the more diplomatic opportunities for reaching a resolution. Just recently, unions cancelled a boycott of their garment factories planned for March 12, that was scheduled to last four days and involve tens of thousands of protesters. The last organized demonstration, which took place late last month, gathered as many as 300,000 workers in the streets, purportedly causing shipment delays, waylaying a Cambodian economy heavily dependent upon garment production. Sina initially said these protests would defiantly continue until their demands are finally met.