Bavet Factories Reopen After Strike, But Pay Dispute Lingers

In Svay Rieng province, employees at all but two of Bavet City’s 37 garment and footwear factories were back at work Saturday after a government-ordered shutdown last week, which was prompted by a growing strike over bonus pay.

The strike began at a few factories after the Khmer New Year holidays last month when workers learned that colleagues at another factory had recently been paid a one-time, $50 bonus for having honored an agreement to not strike during the previous few months.

The strike gradually grew and turned violent when workers started pelting some factories with rocks last Monday, at which point the government ordered all the factories in the city to shut down immediately.

Ou Sokhoeun, deputy director of the provincial labor department, said the shutdown lasted only for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, as Thursday was International Labor Day. He added that he met on Friday with representatives from the factories and the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, which has heavy representation in Bavet City, to help them settle the dispute.

“I suggested that all the companies pay 50 percent [of daily wages] during the two-day suspension from April 29 to 30, but they asked for more time to consider it,” he said.

Mony Kakada, administration chief at the Tai Seng Special Economic Zone, who attended the meeting, said that Collective Union secretary-general Chheng Chhoan had threatened to resume the strike if the factories did not pay their full wages for the duration of the shutdown.

“Mr. Chheng Chhoan said at Friday’s meeting that he would persuade workers not to strike only if the companies paid 50 percent [of their wages] during the strike and 100 percent for the two days closed [by government order], but we have not yet made a decision,” he said.

Asked whether his union would lead more strikes over the pay dispute, Mr. Chhoan avoided the question and repeated what he has said all along, that his union played no part in inciting workers to strike over the $50 bonuses in the first place.

But he did warn that workers might take it upon themselves to resume striking if the factories refused to pay 50 percent of wages during the strike and 100 percent for the two days factories were ordered closed.

“I think that workers will continue to strike on Monday after they get their pay for the month because they are not happy with the results of the meeting,” he said.

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