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Unions Continue Quiet Strikes for Raise in Minimum Wage

Buddhist monks, right, chant and pray during a rally in front of Royal Palace to call for the release of 23 detainees in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Union leaders say they are moving forward with plans for continued strikes as they continue their efforts to raise the minimum wage for factory workers to $160 per month.

Unions are also calling for the release of 21 detainees arrested in a violent crackdown on labor demonstrations in January.

About 200,000 workers from 200 factories refused to work overtime on Monday, as part of the strike, said Ath Thun, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.

“Many workers participated,” he said. “They worked only until 4 pm, and they left for home, to put pressure on the factories.”

The overtime work strike will continue through the end of the month, labor leaders said.

After that, if there is no response to their demands, they will hold a “public forum” in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on March 8, in which as many as 40,000 workers could take part, Ath Thun said.

Heng Sour, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, said government authorities are awaiting an evaluation from outside experts at the International Labor Organization on an appropriate minimum wage for Cambodia. A strike now would be “disadvantageous” to workers, he said.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But he said Monday that few workers had participated in the overtime strike.

Walking out of the factory gates at 4 pm on Tuesday, worker Poeung Soknasaid she supported the call for wage increases, and for “the release of the arrested detainees.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 demonstrators, including monks, protested outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, calling for the release of the detainees. The detainees were part of an original 23 people arrested in January during violent demonstrations. Rights workers say they should be released as soon as possible.

Protester Prak Sovanary said her husband, Von Pov, was experiencing ongoing health problems in detention due to injuries. “My husband told me that if he cannot come out, he will die, because he is wounded,” she said.