Cambodian unions say strike could last weeks


Striking Cambodian garment workers estimated in the tens of thousands continued their walkout over wage demands on Wednesday. Unions warned that the stoppage, which began Monday, could go on for weeks if employers ignored their appeals.


Estimates for the number of workers taking part in the strike varied wildly.

Kong Athit, secretary general of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said more than 190,000 workers at 90 factories had taken part, up from 60,000 on Monday. His estimate was disputed by the Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which put the figure at just over 30,000.

Van Sou Ieng, president of Cambodia's Garment Manufacturers Association, says that unions are intimidating anyone who doesn't want to go on strike.

"It's a violent strike that threatens people's right to work. Only a small minority is demonstrating," said Ieng. "The unions pretend to have a lot of followers, but that's not true. In reality they threaten those who want to work," he told RFI.

The action is the latest in a string of recent strikes in Asia, where employees are demanding a bigger piece of the region's growing economy. Cambodia's garment industry - which produces items for renowned brands such as Gap, Benetton, Adidas and Puma - is a key source of foreign income for the country and employs about 345,000 people.

The strike comes on the heels of a deal between the government and the garment industry, which set the minimum wage for garment and footwear staff at 61 dollars a month. Unions say that amount is not sufficient to cover food, housing and travel expenses, and are asking for a base salary of 93 dollars.

"Two unions have received financial aid from abroad to stage a show of force from the workers and to say that the new minimum wage should not be accepted this quickly and easily," said Ieng.

Athit said that if the employers did not respond by September 18, the workers planned to meet with union representatives to decide whether to extend the strike.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the GMAC, said many workers had been prevented from going to work or had stayed home because of physical threats.

"It is quite sad that the police aren't taking action when these people are breaking the law," he said.

Manufacturers say the strike will result in a loss of production and a drop in orders from buyers, harming Cambodia's standing among investors.


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