Cambodian Workers Winning Wage Battle
Negotiations underway as unions seek to maximise impact of strike
Cambodian Union Leaders last week ended their strike and entered into negotiations with garment factory owners after intervention from the governemnt. 210,000 workers employed in the garments-producing industry participated in the walk-outs, which paralysed the country's textile industry.
At the centre of the the dispute is the demand for a $93 monthly wage. Unions had agreed a figure of $61 in July but they say that this is not sufficient for people to live on. Brands known across the globe such as Marks and Spencer, Gap and Levi's buy garments from Cambodian factories.
Jeroen Merk of the Clean Clothes Campaign, an international workers' rights network says: “The need for action is highlighted by the fact that in August hundreds of garment workers fainted in Cambodia as a result of malnutrition”.
Cambodian factory workers receive some of the lowest wages in Asia and many Western companies exploit the low production costs bred by lax labour laws.
In 2007 the Cambodian parliament passed legislation which allowed for a 70% reduction of nightshift pay. The then Labour minister said that the measure was brought in with the aim of creating more jobs, however it was condemned by union and opposition leaders alike.
Cambodia's clothing industry employs over 330,000 people, most of them young women from impoverish rural regions.In 2006 the country's garment sector exports were worth around $2.8bn, with around 70% of shipments going to US retailers.
However last year the textiles industry was hit by falling sales to its main markets in Europe and the US and consequently over 30,000 jobs were lost. Peter Brimble, Chief Economist for Cambodia at the Asian Development Bank told Reuters "It's not the right time [for the strike]".
The strikes are the latest actions in a wave of industrial unrest which has gripped the country in protest at working conditions and excessively low wages. These actions have frequently been met with extreme force and in instances brutality by the authorities.
Prior to the strikes there were reports of intimidation to trade unionists in the form of violence and threats. In addition many have been threatened with imprisonment due to their activities.
In July riot police used electric shock batons to beat female sweatshop employees as part of a concerted official attempt to break a strike which had been called due to the suspension of a local union official. Labels such as Adidas, Benetton and Puma purchase garments from the factory.