Strikes demanding higher wages threaten Cambodia’s garment industry
- POSTED: 30 Sep 2013 22:32
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Cambodia's garment industry and by extension the country's economy, is under threat -- strikes by workers demanding higher wages have brought some factories to a virtual standstill.
CAMBODIA: Cambodia's garment industry and by extension the country's economy, is under threat.
Strikes by workers demanding higher wages have brought some factories to a virtual standstill.
One garment factory affected by the strikes is Singapore-owned SL Garment Processing, the largest clothes plant in the country.
Its owner, Raymond Wong, says bowing to the strikers' demands would cripple the industry, which provides the majority of the national export revenue.
But most factory employees are sticking to their claims, often at the expense of their families.
Among those affected is Sey Sim, a factory worker at SL Garment Processing.
Most of Sey Sim’s possessions can be found within the four walls of the 3-metre by 4-metre 'cement box’ he calls home, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
The only thing missing is his family.
His two small children live with their grandparents 90 kilometres away, while his wife is 120 kilometres away working at a guesthouse.
Sey Sim said: “I usually see them every one or two months.”
He said he last saw them in July, but the 32-year-old is not sure when he'll see them again because the factory where he has been working since 2006 is on strike, so he has no money to travel.
It also means the US$30 a month he usually sends home out of his US$121 paycheck no longer exists.
He said: “I am very disappointed with myself because I don't have money to send to my kids in Prey Veng province, and they need the money for school supplies, for clothes.“
Workers at SL Garment Processing, whose clients include Levi's, H&M and Zara, have been striking for almost two months, demanding basic wages be raised to US$150 a month, a US$3-per-day food stipend and for the new manger to be fired, among other things.
Factory owner Raymond Wong calls their demands ridiculous, saying the strike is illegal and at times violent.
Only a handful of the factory’s 6,000 employees are currently working, so the factory is operating at minimum capacity.
Wong said he has already lost US$10 million, and giving in to the workers’ demands would put an end to his business.
He said: “If we accept those requests, not only SL, but many other factories will be affected. We will be killing them. “
This kind of story is becoming common in Cambodia, where strikes have quadrupled in the last year.
According to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, garment workers have held 83 strikes from January to July this year, compared with 121 strikes in the whole of 2012.
The garment industry in Cambodia accounts for 80 per cent of exports bringing in US$4.6 billion last year, and employs around half a million people who make about 45 to 50 cents an hour.
According to Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer, the average hourly wage for garment workers in Bangladesh is 24 US cents, 45 cents in Cambodia, 52 cents in Pakistan, 53 cents in Vietnam and US$1.26 in China.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodia Labor Confederation, said: “In the garment sector, there are now more and more unions, so the union tries to challenge the employer and to settle some of the problems.”
Meanwhile, the government is left walking a tight rope, balancing the demands of its people and the cash flows of a lucrative industry.
Officials did raise the minimum wage in May to US$80 a month, but it seems to have done little to stem the strikes.
The protests continue outside the SL Garment factory, almost two months after they started.
Channel NewsAsia was told that protesters gather almost every day in the early morning and again in the late afternoon to voice their concerns outside the gates where they once worked.