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Cambodia: Unions Launch Global Wage Campaign, Demonstrators Detained

Cambodian garment workers have been calling for an increase in wages over the last year, taking to at times violent protests and forgoing work in an effort to be heard.

On Wednesday, the country held its first Global Day of Action to campaign for better wages, and so far, two trade union members have been detained. IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) joined Cambodian garment workers in a wage campaign designed to garner greater attention from brands and retailers about the country’s wage conditions and to get those companies to mandate higher minimum pay for laborers in Cambodia.

Local unions are fighting to see workers’ wages raised to $177 per month from its current $100. The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) recently proposed raising the rate to $115 per month, but workers were displeased and have since continued to take a stance against the nominal increase.

Soldiers from military brigades were stationed in the streets of Phnom Penh and inside Canadia Industrial Park in advance of Wednesday’s events, and helicopters were flying over factories on Veng Sreng road, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) reported.

According to LICADHO, more than 1,000 workers assembled outside garment factories to demand a “humane minimum wage” wearing orange shirts adorned with stickers saying “The buyer must provide basic wages $177” and depicting logos of brands including H&M, Walmart, Levi’s, Gap, Puma, C&A, Adidas and Zara.

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Two members of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), who were among the demonstrators, were arrested in front of the Kamchay Mea factory in Smorng Kangcheung commune, but were released after several hours in custody.

Speaking in advance of the global action day, IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina, said, “The global day of action on 17 September will be a sharp reminder that the world is watching as Cambodia sets a new minimum wage. Cambodia is an important sourcing country to the fashion industry and yet pitiful wages mean that garment workers live in poverty and are forced to work exhausting hours to survive. We urge the Cambodian government to listen to workers’ demands for a peaceful path to a just wage – or seriously risk jeopardizing brands’ confidence in the country as a sourcing partner.”

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said, “The impoverishment of workers in supply chains is a global scandal. In Cambodia, garment workers’ labour supports a multi-billion dollar industry, while wages are insufficient to cover basic expenses, including adequate food and shelter for themselves and their families. Cambodia will simply not move forward if the economic strategy is to continue to rely on a poverty wage system. We strongly support the unions’ call for a living wage and urge the government to act now.”

According to IndustriALL, Cambodia’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) is set to announce a new minimum wage for apparel and textile workers in early October.