After suffering from a high number of strikes and lost workdays in 2013, Cambodia’s $5.5 billion garment industry has seen a major change. The number of strikes fell by more than 25 percent, from 147 in 2013 to 108 in 2014, according to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents the industry’s more than 500 export factories.
The number of lost workdays also fell from 889,000 to 513,000, down about 40 percent, according to Cambodia Daily.
However, these figures do not include the 15 days of nationwide strikes that put much of the industry on hold in late Dec. 2013 and early Jan. 2014.
GMAC chairman Van Sou Ieng said these 15 days were not included because the association considered them to be political events instead of industrial actions. He blamed the rise in strikes and lost working days on the opposing Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which he accused of causing discontent among the garment workers to gain votes during the election.
“There were a high number of strikes in 2013 because there [was] instability and the political party used the minimum wage for political gain,” Cambodia Daily reported Ieng as saying.
The CNRP pushed for the garment workers votes during the July 2013 poll by promising them higher wages. The unions organized nationwide strikes in Dec. 2013 after the Labor Ministry decided to raise the monthly minimum wage only $15 from $80 to $95, less than the workers were demanding.
On Jan. 3, 2014, military police fired into a crowd of protestors in Phnom Penh, killing at least five garment workers and injuring many. The next day, security forces stormed an outdoor camp of CNRP supporters in the city’s Freedom Park with sticks and axes. Following these violent events, demonstrations across the city were banned.
Ieng said the negotiations that followed in 2014 between the unions, factories and government for another raise in minimum wage helped to defuse tensions and reduce the number of strikes, according to the Cambodia Daily.
The Labor Ministry eventually settled on a wage of $128 in November, which quelled the garment workers’ displeasure for the time.
Ieng noted the decrease in strikes should help regain some of the confidence in Cambodia that international brands lost in 2013.