Friday, January 3, 2014

CAMBODIA: Wage dispute causes garment sector shutdown

A military special command unit is said to have been deployed to crack down on striking Cambodia garment workers. (Photo credit: LICADHO)
A military special command unit is said to have been deployed to crack down on striking Cambodia garment workers. (Photo credit: LICADHO)
A dispute over increases to Cambodia's minimum wage levels has led to a virtual shutdown of the country's garment industry.
Garment factory workers have been protesting for better pay since 24 December - but events appear to have taken a turn today (2 January) with claims that soldiers from a military special command unit have been deployed to crack down on the demonstrators.
According to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) and the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), ten union leaders, garment workers and monks have been arrested.

The clashes took place near the Yak Jin factory in Phnom Penh's Pursenchey district - which is believed to produce clothing for international brands including Gap, Walmart, Pink and Old Navy - and are said to signal a disturbing new tactic by authorities to quash what have been largely peaceful protests.

The soldiers were seen brandishing metal pipes, knives, AK47 rifles, slingshots and batons, LICADHO said.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) today (2 January) called for dialogue to resolve the unrest, pointing out that the disruption within such an important sector for the Cambodian economy "is a cause for significant concern."
But the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) says it is unable to attend talks scheduled this-afternoon by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) because of risks to the security and safety of its representatives.
The ILO warns that the economic fallout from the protests and the industry's response "may impact significantly on the industry's revenues while tarnishing the country's reputation among international buyers."
The unrest began after a decision by Cambodia's government advisory body, the Labour Advisory Committee, on 24 December to raise the minimum wage for textile, garment and footwear factory workers to US$160 per month over the next five years.
Trade unions had called for the minimum level to be raised immediately to US$160.
GMAC blamed six of the major apparel trade unions and their leaders for the resulting protests that it says caused damage to factories.
GMAC then issued an open letter on Sunday (29 December) recommending its members shut down their factories to avoid violence as strike action escalates.
By Tuesday (31 December), most factories had ceased operations according to the International Labour Organization's Better Factories Cambodia project, based in Phnom Penh.
GMAC secretary general Ken Loo told just-style that the shutdown would continue until "we get assurance from the trade unions as well as the ministry of labour that it is safe for our workers to return to work and that our property is also protected".
This proposed pay increase would see minimum wages rise from US$80 to US$90 per month in 2014 from 1 April. Minimum wages would then rise to US$110 in 2015, US$126 in 2016, US$143 in 2017 and US$160 in 2018.
A Better Factories Cambodia spokesperson told just-style that "the wage increases announced last week by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) have been deemed...insufficient by a large number of workers.
"We understand that consultations between the MoLVT and union representatives continued on [Monday] morning... We have heard that the MoLVT is considering new minimum wage figures".
As Cambodia's largest industrial sector, accounting for some US$5bn a year in exports and around 400,000 jobs, the shutdown has huge implications for a sector which continues to operate in an intensely competitive international environment.
The ILO is urging all stakeholders, workers, trade unions, government and business to resolve the current situation and to re-open factories as quickly as possible.
Strikes have plagued the garment industry this year, with the latest data from GMAC showing that 131 strikes were staged from January to November 2013, compared with 113 strikes the year before.
Wages remain the primary concern for garment workers. The current base wage is US$80, which was raised from US$61 in May 2013, but union leaders say this still falls far short of a living wage for workers.
With additional reporting by Leonie Barrie.

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