News / Economy

Cambodian Garment Factories Shuttered as Minimum Wage Protests Spread

Striking garment factory workers outside the Great Union garment factory in Phnom Penh, Dec. 25, 2013. (Robert Carmichael for VOA)
Striking garment factory workers outside the Great Union garment factory in Phnom Penh, Dec. 25, 2013. (Robert Carmichael for VOA)
Robert Carmichael
In Cambodia, tens of thousands of garment workers have gone on strike to protest what they regard as an inadequate increase in the monthly minimum wage. As tensions rise on the streets, the body that represents garment exporters has advised them to close their factories temporarily.
 
Garment workers are angry that the government this week decided to boost the monthly minimum wage by just $15 – from $80 to $95. Many had expected it would double to $160. The new minimum wage is due to come into effect in April 2014.
 
VOA spoke to workers protesting outside three garment factories on Wednesday. All told a similar story; with prices rising in the markets and rents going up, they cannot survive on what they earn, and are forced to work overtime simply to make ends meet.
 
Half a dozen workers said that, ahead of the announcement of the new minimum wage, their landlords had raised their monthly rent by $5.
 
Huot Lykeang, who has worked in the sector for 13 years as a sewing machine operator, was one of several hundred striking workers standing outside the Great Union garment factory in Phnom Penh.
 
Her son lives with her family back in the provinces, and with price rises outstripping the increase in wages, she said that it is getting harder to send money home.
 
Huot said she would like to be able to save at least some of what she earns, and challenged government officials to try to survive on $95 a month. She said that if they are able to do so, then she will accept what has been tabled. But if not, then Prime Minister Hun Sen should step down, and the government should raise the minimum wage to $160.
 
Cambodia’s garment industry is the country’s key foreign exchange earner – worth more than $5 billion this year alone, mostly in exports to the U.S. and the European Union. The sector is also Cambodia’s biggest formal employer, with 400,000 workers.
 
Wages have not kept pace with inflation over the years. As a result, the number of strikes has increased. Last year, the sector lost more than half a million days to strike action, the worst in its two-decade history. This year has been even worse, and will likely see one million days lost.
 
Some strikes have seen violence on both sides. In the worst incident, riot police used live ammunition at a protest in November, killing one bystander and injuring several people.
 
With tens of thousands of workers walking out this week, the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, or GMAC, the body that represents the more than 400 garment exporting factories, on Thursday advised its members to close for the next few days.
 
GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo said the risk of violence is simply too great.
 
“We sent out an advisory to all members, if they are affected, to please send their workers home for the safety of the workers as well as to protect the factory, because we see – and it is our understanding – that the group that is going around, their main purpose is to force workers away from the workplace – it’s basically not allowing the workers to work. And many factories have been affected by this,” said Loo.
 
Factories that continue operating, thinks Loo, will likely run into trouble.
 
A CNRP rally brought thousands of people to the streets to call for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down, Cambodia, Dec. 22, 2013. (Robert Carmichael for VOA)A CNRP rally brought thousands of people to the streets to call for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down, Cambodia, Dec. 22, 2013. (Robert Carmichael for VOA)
x
A CNRP rally brought thousands of people to the streets to call for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down, Cambodia, Dec. 22, 2013. (Robert Carmichael for VOA)
A CNRP rally brought thousands of people to the streets to call for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down, Cambodia, Dec. 22, 2013. (Robert Carmichael for VOA)
​The timing of the protests is a boon for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, which narrowly lost July’s general election. The CNRP made remarkable gains, in part by promising to double the monthly minimum wage for garment workers. That won over much of the sector’s workforce, most of whom are young women who support their impoverished rural families.
 
Since the July vote, which it claims was fraudulent, the CNRP has held regular rallies. Last Sunday, for instance, it organized a huge march with an estimated 40,000 people through the center of Phnom Penh, calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to resign and for new elections to be held.
 
Hun Sen has rejected both demands outright, and has also refused an independent inquiry into allegations of widespread electoral fraud.
 
Meanwhile, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has heaped further pressure on the government with his call this week for garment workers to strike until the government boosts the minimum wage to $160 a month.
 
On Thursday, thousands of garment workers joined the opposition protesters in a park in the capital. Sam Rainsy wants one million people to come to Phnom Penh for a massive rally on Sunday.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ryan from: US
December 29, 2013 12:55 AM
VOA, next time learn how to count numbers or proper estimation. There were at least close to 400,000 protesters. Where do you get 40,000? The protesters were larger than in Thai.
In Response

by: Tintin from: Phnom Penh
January 04, 2014 10:18 AM
I can tell you now that there were NOT 400,000. 40,000 seems a fair estimate. Things are tense here at times but it's not the whole city protesting. Although most hearts are with the protesters I'm sure.

by: Cranksy from: USA
December 28, 2013 12:45 AM
I hope VOA continues to cover this story.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8896
JPY
USD
119.26
GBP
USD
0.6475
CAD
USD
1.2451
INR
USD
61.816

Rates may not be current.