Thousands of striking garment and footwear workers in Cambodia refused to be appeased by a government offer of a slightly improved minimum wage Tuesday, vowing to continue protests that have brought hundreds of factories in the key national industry to a halt.
The new monthly minimum wage announced by the Ministry of Labor increased a hike announced last week by U.S. $5, but still fell far short of doubling current wages, as workers have demanded.
Tuesday’s announcement raises minimum wages to U.S. $100 per month, beginning February, compared to last week’s increase to U.S. $95 which would have taken effect in April, the ministry said.
“The minimum wage will be increased from U.S. $80 to U.S. $100, in addition to other existing benefits. The new minimum wage will be enforced by Feb. 1, 2014,” it said in a statement signed by Minister of Labor Ith Samheng.
The ministry will also establish a working group to study the minimum wage to consider the possibility of further increases in the future, according to the statement.
But the improved offer was not enough to persuade striking workers who have staged demonstrations in the capital since last week to demand the minimum wage be raised to U.S. $160 immediately.
Thousands of workers from some 300 different factories flocked to the Ministry of Labor Building on Phnom Penh’s Russian Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon, shouting for Ith Samheng to come out and speak to them.
After no officials addressed them, the demonstrators disbanded around 3:00 p.m., National Independent Federation of Textile Unions of Kampuchea President Morm Nhim said.
Outside downtown, demonstrators blocked traffic on national roads in the city, with some 600 workers from the Pak Sun Knitting factory closing off National Route 2 and those from other factories blocking Routes 4, 5 and 6, Free Trade Union President Chea Mony said.
The strike has shuttered hundreds of factories across the country, with nearly all of the factories in Phnom Penh closed, he said.
Plans to step up protests
The strikers plan to resume their demonstrations Thursday after taking a break for New Year’s Day on Wednesday.
Cambodian Confederation of Unions President Rong Chhun said Thursday’s protest would be larger than Tuesday’s and aimed at pressuring the government to agree to workers’ wage demands.
Trade unions complain that workers in the garment industry, which is Cambodia’s third-largest currency earner, often work long shifts for little pay in the garment factories.
Tuesday’s fresh demonstration followed clashes that broke out between police and striking workers who blocked a key highway in the capital.
Seven workers and seven military police officers were injured in clashes outside a special economic zone which erupted after the workers were prevented from entering. The workers had wanted to enter the zone to encourage fellow workers to join a protest rally.
The worker strikes are supported by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which has been holding two weeks of daily protests in a bid to press Prime Minister Hun Sen to hold a re-election following disputed July 28 polls.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.