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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7492
JPY
USD
102.27
GBP
USD
0.5960
CAD
USD
1.0950
INR
USD
61.300

Rates may not be current.