Cambodian unions say garment strike could go on for weeks

Cambodian unions say garment strike could go on for weeks

(AFP)

PHNOM PENH — A mass strike by tens of thousands of Cambodian garment workers entered its third day Wednesday, with unions warning the stoppage could go on for weeks if employers ignored their wage demands.

Estimates for the number of workers taking part in the industrial action varied wildly, but both unionists and employers agreed that more people had joined the strike since it began on Monday.

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.

But that estimate was disputed by the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which put the figure at just over 30,000.

The walkout is the latest in a string of recent strikes in Asian countries, as employees demand a larger share of the region’s economic growth.

Cambodia’s garment industry — which produces items for renowned brands including Gap, Benetton, Adidas and Puma — is a key source of foreign income for the country and employs about 345,000 workers.

The strike follows a deal between the government and industry that set the minimum wage for garment and footwear staff at 61 dollars a month.

Unions say the salary is not enough to cover food, housing and travel expenses, and want a base salary of 93 dollars.

Athit told AFP that the number of strikers had exceeded expectations because “the workers are having difficulties surviving on their low wages”.

He also threatened to keep the industrial action going for weeks if necessary.

“If there is no response from the employers by September 18, we will have a meeting with our union representatives to decide to continue the strike for at least a month,” he said.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the GMAC, said many workers had been prevented from going to work or stayed away because of threats they would be beaten up.

“It is quite sad that the police aren’t taking action when these people are breaking the law,” he added.

Manufacturers have warned that 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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