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Cambodia Garment Factory Strikes Surge 74%

Cambodia’s garment factories saw a sizable increase in strikes during the first three months of 2015, with the number growing nearly 74 percent from the same period last year.

In this year’s first quarter report, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) recorded 40 strikes at garment factories in the country between January and March. In 2014, only 23 strikes were recorded during those months.

“Last year, the violent demonstrations just ended and everyone was on alert,” Ken Loo, GMAC secretary general, told the Phnom Penh Post.

A protest supporting nationwide garment industry strike turned violent in January 2014, when military shootings occurred, killing at least five protestors. The country later issued a ban on public demonstrations as a result, making it difficult for any strikes to be organized.

However, strikes in the country’s garment industry picked back up, mostly because of poor communication between employers and workers, according to Kong Athit, the vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.

“I think this is the common problem for [everyone] related to industrial relations,” Athit told the Phnom Penh Post. “The employer, the union and the government still have very little involvement with [each other].”

GMAC’s study also found that 70 percent of strikes involved unions not registered at the factory where the strike took place, 8 percent were executed by non-union workers and all of the strikes were carried out illegally, according to the Post.

Dave Welsh, country director for labor rights group, the Solidarity Center, said holding a strike seen as legal by the government is almost impossible. Employers often refuse to bargain with unions or workers and government officials are usually slow to carry on workers’ complaints, which stalls most attempts to perform a strike legally.

GMAC’s report included speculation that some of the strikes were held to enhance the union’s reputation, or as Loo told the Phnom Penh Post, “to flex their muscles.”

Others have argued, however, that the strikes all have a purpose, the majority of which are related to wages and factory conditions.