Reuters reported that law enforcement used water cannons and made dozens of arrests in an effort to end demonstrations in Bavet in the eastern Svay Rieng province. The protests, which started last Wednesday, continued through the weekend as thousands of garment and footwear factory workers left their posts to demand that the sector’s monthly minimum wage be raised to $148.
“Workers were water hosed as they walked to factories,” Nouth Bopinnaroath, a human rights worker at the Licadho group, told Reuters, noting that about 30 men and women had been detained. “The male workers have their hands tied up,” he added.
Last week, four protesters were arrested for throwing stones.
Tensions have been running high in Cambodia since the government defied labor union demands in October and said it would raise the minimum wage from $128 to $140, a 9 percent increase that’s due to kick in next year but fell short of requests for $160.
Manufacturers then called for higher productivity ahead of the projected raise, but worker unions responded with new needs, asking factory owners, brands and government to also consider increasing lunch stipends and improving transport and living conditions.
Eight unions representing the country’s garment workers, including the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) and the Collective Union of the Movement of Workers (CUMW), had threatened strike action if their demands were not met. But Kem Chamroeun of the CUMW told Reuters that the current protests have nothing to do with the unions and said that arrests will only worsen the situation.
“Workers will just continue to strike,” he said. “They won’t accept this minimum wage and no one talked to them.”
This could spell trouble for Cambodia’s economy. The garment and footwear industry accounts for around 80 percent of the country’s exports, mainly to the U.S. and E.U., and is worth more than $5 billion annually.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) last week said the strikes could cause the industry to incur millions of dollars in losses.