One worker has died and 18 others fainted at the Or Sambath Trading garment factory in the Prey Veng province in eastern Cambodia. According to the Associated Press, the factory has since been shut down for a minimum of four days pending an investigation.
It began on Thursday, district governor Duk Kanthor said, when five female employees reported that they felt dizzy, had trouble breathing and were vomiting. The women later fainted and were sent to a local hospital, where one of the workers—who was 21—eventually died.
The following day, a further 14 workers reported similar symptoms, passed out and were also admitted to a hospital.
The incident at Or Sambath, which employs more than 1,000 workers (most of whom are women), comes off the heels of the labor ministry’s decision to raise the minimum wage to $140 a month, starting in January 2016. The 9.4 percent increase is still considered low compared to that of neighboring countries.
Garment workers’ unions have voiced their upset with the government’s decision, releasing a new list of demands, including increased lunch stipends and improved working conditions, and threatening protests.
Ken Loo, secretary-general at the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), told Cambodia Daily that the organization does not “entertain threats” like those made by the unions.
GMAC also opposed raising the minimum wage any higher because of fear that Cambodian factories would lose business to other countries. Since the garment industry is Cambodia’s biggest export earner, it is a risk Loo said they don’t want to take.
But Jenny Holdcroft, policy director of IndustriAll, said pay has no impact on competition. “Industry-wide collective bargaining takes wages out of competition, which means supplier factories can’t push down wages to win business,” she said.