It’s déjà vu for Cambodia’s garment and footwear manufacturers as thousands of workers left their posts this week to demand higher pay.
Xinhua News Agency reported that nearly 30,000 employees at 39 factories in Bavet in the eastern Svay Rieng province went on strike Wednesday seeking to boost the sector’s monthly minimum wage to $148.
The protests, which continued Thursday, came two months after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that a 9 percent pay raise from $128 to $140 would come into effect in January. But labor unions, most of which had lobbied for $160, said the increase was too low.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) requested the government’s help in stopping this week’s strike, saying that the industry would incur millions of dollars in losses because protestors had stopped all production in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone.
But Chieng Om, the provincial governor, denied these allegations. He told the Associated Press that the number of protestors was less than 30,000 and that most workers went home when factories were shut for security reasons, not because of the strike action, which he said ended Thursday when the picketers agreed to wait for the government’s response on the matter.
It’s not just factory workers who are up in arms about wages. Last week, around 200 delegates from IndustriAll Global Union met in Phnom Penh to show their support.
“The minimum wage in Cambodia is still not a living wage and that goes for Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam and other countries in the region. And as long as that is the case, our fight continues,” said Jyrki Raina, general secretary, adding, “The garment workers in Cambodia have demands and they are mobilizing for them.”
Employing more than 700,000 people, the garment and footwear industry accounts for around 80 percent of Cambodia’s exports, mainly to the U.S. and the E.U., and is worth more than $5 billion annually. Workers also had to settle for less last year, when the government defied labor union demands for $140 and increased the monthly minimum wage from $100 to $128.