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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.9098
    JPY
    USD
    105.75
    GBP
    USD
    0.7631
    CAD
    USD
    1.3189
    INR
    USD
    67.209

    Rates may not be current.