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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7217
JPY
USD
102.17
GBP
USD
0.5949
CAD
USD
1.1009
INR
USD
60.326

Rates may not be current.