Thousands of Cambodian garment and footwear factory workers returned to work on Monday after a court ruled that they would lose their jobs if they did not end their strike, and after employers agreed to consider their demands for a U.S. $50 one-time bonus, prominent union leaders said.
Workers at dozens of factories in special economic zones in Svay Rieng and Kampong Cham provinces had gone on protest since late last month, some of them after learning that colleagues at two plants had received the U.S. $50 bonus payments for avoiding recent walkouts.
Most of the workers returned to work reluctantly after a court order over the weekend warned they would be fired if they did not, Ath Thon, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“This Monday, workers at most of the factories returned to work and only those at two or three factories are still on strike. Those factories are in Kampong Cham and Kandal province,” Ath Thon said.
“The workers were forced to return to work by court’s orders which said that they would be fired [if they didn’t],” he said.
“They are not happy about returning. Only a few factories resolved [their disputes] with their workers before the workers’ return.”
Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, told Agence France-Presse the workers returned after factories agreed to study their demands for the bonus.
The factories had not agreed to paying the U.S. $50 bonus, but reassured workers that they will "find a solution" to the dispute, he said.
Meanwhile in Kampong Speu province, thousands of workers who had been protesting since last month for transportation and food allowances took to the streets to block National Highway No. 3, which connects Cambodia’s southwestern coast to the capital.
The move came after the workers from the Wingstar Shoes Co. Ltd in Kampon heard that those who failed to return to work on April 29 would have their pay docked.
The workers have been protesting since April 25, asking for a monthly U.S. $15 transportation allowance and other payments and bonuses
The factory’s chief administrator Mao Sisong said the management agreed to improve some working conditions after talks with the union, accusing Pav Sina of spreading false information.
Pav Sina rejected claims that he had incited workers to protest, telling RFA the workers planned to continue their protest on Tuesday.
The workers have demanded between U.S. $11 to U.S. $15 per month for transportation and U.S. $15 dollars for lunch, he said.
Garment workers have been at the forefront of protests for higher wages and have faced several crackdowns by Cambodian authorities.
At least four civilians were killed in early January when police opened fire on protesting textile factory workers who were calling for a minimum wage of U.S. $160 a month.
Twenty-three of those arrested during the crackdown went on trial last month, despite international appeals for their release.
Reported by Leng Maly and Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.