At least 10,000 garment workers in Svay Rieng province resumed their strike for extra bonus pay Monday following the weekend holiday, but there was little sign that any more factories would give in to their demands.
The strike began with just a few Bavet City factories after the Khmer New Year holidays, when some garment workers grew envious of colleagues at another factory who had just been paid a one-time, $50 bonus for having agreed to not strike during the previous three months. Though other factories had not offered the same deal, more and more workers have continued to join the protests for their own $50 bonus.
One factory, Smart Tech, caved in to its workers on Saturday.
“We protest to demand $50 because the workers at the other two factories got it for not striking,” said Sok Khemara, a Best Way factory worker who joined the protests yesterday.
Ly Hong Shin, chairman of the Tai Seng Special Economic Zone (SEZ), one of two Bavet City SEZs caught up in the strikes, said that about 10,000 workers were striking outside 23 of his factories yesterday. But he insisted that the factories had no intention of paying up, as it would only encourage workers to ask for more.
“The workers’ demand for $50 is not right because it is not in the Labor Law,” Mr. Hong Shin said. “We will not provide $50 as the workers demand because they would continue to make other demands if we agreed.”
Mey Ley, administration chief at the Sheico factory inside the Manhattan SEZ, where workers have been striking since Friday, also said that their workers would not be getting their way, adding that the SEZ put out a statement on Saturday to let the workers know the factory owners’ position.
“We are not able to pay the workers because their demand does not follow the Labor Law,” he said.
On Friday, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia issued a statement chastising not only the strikers for trying to effectively “blackmail” the factories, but the government as well for not doing enough to end the dispute. It warned that the strike could grow violent and spread if authorities failed to stop it in Bavet, as had happened late last year before strikes went nationwide.
Officials at the provincial labor department could not be reached for comment. But city police chief Keo Koung said stopping the strikes was up to the factories.
“Authorities have no plan to stop the protests because this is a decision for the companies,” he said. “My responsibility is just to provide security.”
In February 2012, then-Bavet City Governor Chhouk Bundith shot and injured three female garment factory workers who were protesting at the Manhattan Special Economic Zone. He was found guilty of the crime in May 2013 but has never been arrested.
Mr. Koung yesterday summoned two local representatives of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers to his office for questioning. But the police chief said he postponed the questioning to Wednesday after they arrived because he was busy.
He said the two men, Puth Vichet and Chea Oddom, were accused of defamation but declined to elaborate.
Mr. Vichet said the allegations stemmed from his calling a factory administrator a “female dog” when she started arguing with workers on Saturday.
He also speculated that the police chief rescheduled the questioning because of garment workers who broke off from the strike yesterday morning to protest in front of the police station.
Collective Union secretary-general Chheng Chhoan said about 2,000 of the strikers had made the 10-km march to the police station to protest in support of Mr. Vichet.
He estimated that about 20,000 workers had joined the strike yesterday and that they would do so again today.
© 2014, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.