Some Factories Stay Open Despite GMAC’s Call for Shutdown

Some garment factories opened their doors Monday morning despite a notice on Sunday from the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) that all factories should stay closed until the government and striking unions guaranteed their safety.

In an open letter on Sunday, GMAC accused six unions—all known to not be aligned with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP—of inciting their members to damage factory property and of coercing workers to join their protests for higher wages. GMAC said all 400-plus factories in the association would close, or stay closed, until those unions and the Labor Ministry could assure their safety.

In another statement Monday, GMAC said some factories had stayed open, but only because many workers were urging them to.

“On the morning of December 30, some members of the association who were requested by the workers to return to work and earn salary as usual forcibly opened operations under the request of the workers with hopes to support their living and their families,” GMAC said in the statement.

“Very unfortunately, the group of six unions…still continued their violent actions and went from one factory to another and seriously threatened the security and safety and life of the workers and factory staff and the private property of the employers,” the association alleged.

GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said about 80 factories opened Monday, mostly in the provinces, and that some may open again today.

“It’s a dynamic situation, so it’s depending on the situation,” he said.

Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, one of the unions singled out by GMAC, estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of factories were still open.

He again denied that union members were coercing those who wanted to continue working.

“We are not ordering protesters to go protest, they are protesting on their own,” Mr. Athit said.

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, also rejected GMAC’s demand that the unions bear full responsibility for any lost wages, jobs and investment from the strikes.

“We don’t agree with GMAC’s demand and…we have informed GMAC that we are not satisfied with $95 [per month]; we need $160,” he said. “GMAC has to be responsible itself.”

Among the factories that opened their gates Monday morning was the Golden Mile along National Road 5 in northern Phnom Penh.

Administration manager Sok Chanra said about 15 percent of their usual 1,700-strong workforce was inside the factory when about 30 or 40 striking factory workers arrived at their gates.

“They used the loudspeaker to incite workers, ‘Please all workers come to complain at the Ministry of Labor,’” he said.

Mr. Chanra said the protesters were not violent and did not force the workers to join them. “They only ask,” he said.

But Mr. Chanra said he told the workers inside the factory to leave anyway, “because we think about the safety…because most of [the] outside people want to get inside.”

Despite Monday’s disruption, Mr. Chanra said the factory would open again today.

“Every morning my factory opens the doors for workers willing to work,” he said. GMAC may say it wants the factories to stay closed, he added, “but our workers insist to stay open.”

Nhem Sokleng, who had her sugarcane juicer set up outside the quiet gates during what should have been a busy lunchtime rush, said the protesters came and went—reinforced by the workers who came out to join them—without much ruckus.

“After the protesters shook the gate they moved away to another factory; there was not violence,” she said.

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