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Garment Workers Gather To Demand More Wages, Better Conditions

Thousands of garment workers on May 01, 2013 join a non-violent demonstration from Phnom Penh's 'Democracy' park to the national assembly to submit a petition to the government. Protesters, led by the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), demanded salary increase, improvements to working conditions, and justice for the victims shot by former Bavel city mayor Chhuk Bondith. (Photo: Suy Heimkhemra/VOA Khmer)
PHNOM PENH - Thousands of garment workers gathered in a demonstration in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to demand better salaries and improved working conditions for the hundreds of thousands of workers in Cambodia’s factories.

Workers say a government increase of the minimum wage, to $80 per month, is not enough to keep up with the rising cost of living in the country.

The May Day demonstration took place in front of the National Assembly, where representatives of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and royalist Funcinpec addressed the workers.

The demonstration was the first since political parties began ramping up for the July 27 national elections.

Workers have made a list of 14 demands to improve their rights, wages and conditions. And they have called for a reopening of the case against Chhouk Bandith, the former governor of Bavet city, Svay Rieng province, who is accused of firing upon a worker demonstration there last year, injuring three.

Ath Thorn, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said workers are demanding a monthly salary of $150, while civil servants are calling for a monthly salary of $250.

“If poor working conditions are not dealt with, and the monthly wage is not increased, we will not stop our protests,” he said.

At Wednesday’s demonstration, Mam Sophan, a 23-year-old garment factory worker in Phnom Penh, said she and 40 others from her factory had joined the protest to see their wages raised. She would like to earn at least $100 per month, she said.

“The daily expenses are now huge, because of the increased price of goods and everything,” she said. “So the current monthly salary that is offered is not enough for us to live on.”

Nearby, Den Sombo, 31, who works at a factory in Kandal province, said she has become poorer and poorer, even as the price of goods continue to rise.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the workers have the right to demonstrate, but he said the current government has worked hard for labor.