In the past few days, a garment workers' strike has found itself in conflict with bosses, local authorities and union officials while last week, construction workers struck in solidarity with sacked workmates.
Around 160 garment workers continued to strike on Monday (22nd August) outside the gates of a factory in Meanchey district, where they have camped out day and night since Thursday to agitate for improved working conditions.
Ien Pov, a union representative at the Sun Lu Fong factory, said workers had made eight demands to the factory’s management, including a request that workers receive US$80 in severance pay for every year they have worked at the factory.
“Most workers want me to continue to hold the strike after learning that the factory owner has violated their rights and the law,” he said.
But union officials and local authorities say the demands of the workers may not reflect their rights under labour laws. Som Aun, president of the Cambodian Labour Union Confederation, said that the severance pay demand especially was a step too far: “Their demands cannot be settled in just a short time because what they have demanded is illegal,” he said. “This condition is not mentioned in the Cambodian Labour Law.”
Som Aun issued a letter on Saturday calling the strike “illegal” and said that the confederation had decided in a meeting on August 16th not to sanction the strike because he wanted to meet with the factory’s management to discuss the workers’ demands.
Last week, the Arbitration Council dismissed a complaint filed in July by 160 workers from the factory, citing the illegality of the resignation clause.
“The factory will discuss their demands and try to solve the problem outside the court system if the approximately 20 percent of workers who are on strike agree to go back to work,” Som Aun said.
Meanwhile, Keo Sareoun, the chief of Chak Angre Leu commune, said authorities planned to crack down on the striking workers today: “It is difficult for us to maintain order and safety at night when such an anarchic strike is happening,” he said. “On Monday, I will not allow them to protest in the area any longer.” He declined to say what measures would be taken to disperse the protesters.
Ien Pov said that about 20 local police officers had already warned the protesters. “The police have told us that if we continue to protest our security cannot be guaranteed,” he said.
Construction workers' strike
Last week, about 40 workers went on strike in Kandal province, demanding that their employers reinstate 27 workers who they say were fired for trying to organise a union.
Speaking last Tuesday (17th August), Chea Sokyeak, one of the striking builders, said his colleagues planned to carry the protest into a third day.
“We will not give up our actions as long as there is no result,” Chea Sokyeak said.
The protesters say the company, KC Gecin Enterprises, fired 27 workers last Friday because they were trying to form a union. Co-workers began demonstrating outside the company’s headquarters on National Road 2 on Monday, demanding that the 27 be reinstated. Police officers tore up the protesters’ signs during the protest Monday, though yesterday’s demonstrations were largely peaceful.
Sok Sovanndeth, director of the Cambodian National Federation of Building and Wood Workers, accused the firm of contravening the country’s labour laws by sacking the 27 employees.
“The company seems to look down on and discriminate against the workers, since this dismissal took place without any explanation to the workers,” he said. “They violated the labour laws.”