Isolated Protests Emerge in Wake of Failed Garment Strike

A day after union leaders conceded that a nationwide stay-at-home strike in the garment sector had failed, fresh strikes raged in Svay Rieng, Kandal and Kompong Speu provinces, with workers claiming bosses reneged on agreements for extra Khmer New Year vacation days.

Striking staff swelled to 10,000 at Svay Rieng’s Bavet City special economic zone, according to union leaders, while hundreds refused to work in Kandal and Kompong Speu provinces.

“The workers are still striking in Svay Rieng because the authorities have not made any effort to solve the problem,” said Pav Sina, head of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.

The strike in the SEZ began when factory bosses announced that staff who did not return to work after the Khmer New Year—from April 14 to 16—would be docked pay for their absence. Unions had called for the stay-at-home strike to start on April 17.

“The authorities only threaten activists,” Mr. Sina said, adding that unionists had received visits from police, warning them against “taking part in the opposition strikes or they will face problems.”

At the Unity Fashion Garment and Knitting Factory in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district, workers claim they worked overtime in the lead-up to the new year, with a promise from bosses that they could extend their holiday through April 17.

Vuy Idie, a 20-year-old worker at Unity, said between 400 and 500 staff had been on strike since Friday, when they were told that they would not be paid for April 17. They claim that they worked two hours overtime on April 10 and 11 in exchange for the extra day.

“We request that the factory does not cut our salary for April 17, and we demand $12 per month for lunch and travel costs,” Ms. Idie said, adding that the Kandal provincial labor department had promised to solve the dispute today.

At the Victco Hand Bag factory in Kompong Speu’s Samroang Tong district, workers say that, upon going to work on Friday, they were told by factory managers to go home because there were no food vendors open near the factory, leaving them unfit to work.

When staff arrived for work Saturday, they were told they would be docked half a day’s pay, said Meas Kunthea, a 27-year-old worker.

“We protest against the factory because we don’t want them to cut our salary,” Ms. Kunthea said. “We also demand $15 for food each month and $50 for travel.”

Oum Navy, chief of administration at Victco, said the factory had agreed to pay the workers for the Friday afternoon. She also said that the roughly 500 members of the factory’s 1,300 strong workforce were forgoing more of their salary by continuing to protest for food and travel expenses.

“Right now, we can solve the problem [by paying the workers for Friday afternoon],” Ms. Navy said. “But we will cut their salaries for whenever they protest. This is the rule of the factory.”

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