Unions say 60,000 garment workers on strike over wages

Ath Thun, president of Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union, speaks near a sign that reads "Solidarity for our wages" during a strike at the Chinese-owned Chung Fai Knitwear Fty. Ltd. in Phnom Penh September 13, 2010. Cambodian labour activist Moeun Tola blames the Gap Inc, Nike Inc and other big Western brands for sinking Cambodian workers in low wages. Moeun Tola and thousands of Cambodian garment workers began a five-day walkout on Monday to demand better wages and benefits, a sign recent labour unrest in China may be spreading to factories elsewhere in Asia that supply the world with low-cost goods. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea
Phnom Penh - A union leader said Monday that 60,000 garment workers at 50 factories had joined a strike in a dispute over Cambodia's revised minimum wage.

Ath Thorn, the president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said he expected more workers would join in the coming days, with the strike set to continue until at least the end of the week.

'Until now we haven't had any violence. But the police arrested three people at lunchtime and confiscated microphones, and made them sign a contract not to use them any more,' he said.

'This afternoon we have had some more factories go on strike and workers join us, so I expect more (will strike) tomorrow.'

Last week, a coalition of 13 unions voted to strike after the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia (GMAC), failed to respond to union overtures to increase the monthly minimum wage to 93 dollars.

The labour federation condemned a July deal between the industry group, the government, and some unions to boost the monthly wage by five dollars to 61 dollars.

Unions want a 93-dollar minimum wage, which echoes a finding by the government's National Institute of Statistics that the 358,000 garment workers needed that much to afford food, housing and travel expenses each month.

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo last week urged member factories to file legal suit against unions to compel strikers to resume work.

The garment industry is Cambodia's largest foreign exchange earner, with the bulk of exports sent to the United States and the European Union. The global economic crisis hammered the industry, which accounted for 15 per cent of gross domestic product in 2008 and two-thirds of exports.

The Ministry of Labour said 93 factories closed last year with the loss of almost 70,000 jobs and overtime cut dramatically.


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