On 19 February global unions and major apparel brands met with the Cambodian government to discuss a minimum wage reform, trade union legislation and the 21 imprisoned workers.
The meeting in Phnom Penh was hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, with several ministers including the Ministers of Labour and Commerce and other senior government officials present. IndustriALL Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) were joined by H&M, Inditex, Gap, C&A and Puma.
IndustriALL’s general secretary Jyrki Raina was cautiously optimistic after the meeting:
There was some indication of what the government intends to do over the coming period, and there was a commitment of continuing the discussions with the brands and the global unions. We however cannot underestimate the challenges that lie ahead.
Cambodia’s garment industry has grown rapidly and makes up 80 per cent of the country’s exports. Low wages and government incentives for businesses have seen a boom in the industry worth some 5 billion US dollars per year, while living standards for workers have improved slowly.
“The meeting in Phnom Penh is a step towards constructive dialogue aiming for a sustainable garment industry in Cambodia,” says Steve Benedict, ITUC’s human and trade union rights director. “This includes a continued minimum wage reform and freedom of association.”
The violent end to the strike of Cambodian garment workers, rallying for an increased minimum wage in January, left four people dead, 39 injured and 23 workers imprisoned. Recently two workers were released. Of the remaining 21 detainees, 16 are on hunger strike.
The world has seen solidarity actions supporting the plight of garment workers in Cambodia, following a call by IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the ITUC to protest outside Cambodian embassies earlier this month.