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Cambodian workers fight for a living wage

29 January, 2014IndustriALL Global Union supports the fight of Cambodian garment workers for a minimum living wage and demands the respect of freedom of association and the release of jailed unionists.

2014 had a violent start in Cambodia. Workers demonstrating for an increased minimum wage clashed with police; resulting in four deaths, three missing people, 23 jailed and hundreds of dismissed workers. Arrest warrants were issued for the trade union leaders supporting the strikes, including leaders of our own affiliates. Employers are suing unions for damages.

The situation in Cambodia is totally unacceptable and makes the country a priority for IndustriALL Global Union. We took quick action after the violence broke out in the country. Together with the ITUC and UNI Global Union, we conducted an international trade union mission to Phnom Penh in early January. The mission met with the unions, government and employer organization GMAC, demanding the release of jailed unionists, an investigation into the killings, and the continuation of talks on an increased minimum wage.

We launched an electronic solidarity campaign on LabourStart. So far almost 11,000 people have protested to the Cambodian government and GMAC.

And the joint action continues. Recently IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the ITUC sent a letter together with 30 leading clothing brands urging the Cambodian government to investigate the use of deadly force, respect the freedom of association and set up a functioning minimum wage negotiation process. Now a working group has been set up to look at the wage question, while IndustriALL affiliates have taken action in Thailand, Korea, Australia and elsewhere.

The minimum wage of USD 80 per month is one of the lowest in the world. That is why IndustriALL’s eight affiliates in Cambodia decided in our workshop in December to demand it to be raised to USD 160. It would still not be a living wage, but a step forward for the 400,000 garment workers which generate exports worth of USD 5 billion a year.

However, at the end of December, the government and employers only accepted a raise to USD 95 which was later changed to USD 100 a month. The unhappy workers went on strike, and violence followed after the South Korean embassy and investors urged police to intervene.  

Union membership in the Cambodian garment is at an encouraging 60 per cent, but the workers are split in too many unions. Struggles like the one on SL Garments last year have been won, but building unity is indispensable for greater worker power.  

IndustriALL will continue its action for workers’ rights in Cambodia, to ensure a living wage and the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining without fear of violence.

Jyrki Raina

General Secretary