Thousands Protest Garment Factory Conditions

On their third straight day of protests, Cambodian workers take their demands to the government.
2012-05-21
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A worker sews at a garment factory in Sihanoukville province, Sept. 9, 2009.
A worker sews at a garment factory in Sihanoukville province, Sept. 9, 2009.
AFP

Some 3,000 employees of a textile factory in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh gathered to demand better working conditions on Monday, in one of the largest recent strikes to hit a garment industry plagued by complaints of low wages and few protections for labor rights.

On the third day of their strike, workers from the Chinese-owned SL Garment Processing Cambodia company’s two factories in the outskirts of Phnom Penh took their protest downtown, gathering in front of the Social and Labor Ministry building in the capital.

The protesters said they were determined to continue the mass strike until they receive better working conditions, benefits, and protection of their rights.

“If we don't have a solution, what will we do next? We will struggle until we can see a solution,” one worker shouted at the protest.

The demands are not an unusual refrain in the country’s garment factories, which are the country’s largest employers and hire more than 300,000 people, mostly women.

Art Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, said the company should address the workers’ concerns.

“They will go to negotiate right at the factory, since whether or not the factory owner agrees [to their conditions] they still need to seek a proper solution for the workers. The owner can't avoid responsibility for this matter,” he said.

The factory’s management has condemned the strike as illegal and warned protesters not to try to take over the factory buildings.

“Don’t take any action to incite or lead workers to block the entrance gates to the SL factory companies,” a member of the management company shouted to the strikers through a loudspeaker.

Strikes and protests are not uncommon at textile factories, where laborers often work long shifts for little pay.

In February, protests by two thousand workers at the Chinese-owned Manhattan Textile and Garment Corp’s factory in southeastern Cambodia’s Kampong Cham province turned violent when workers blocked a national highway and vandalized the factory.

The industry has also been rocked by nearly a dozen incidents of mass fainting in the past year. The faintings are mostly blamed on workers' poor health, bad ventilation in the workplace, or exposure to dangerous chemicals, although some factory managements have disputed this.

Reported by Uon Chhin for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Taing Sarada. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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