Protests by Cambodia's garment factory workers over minimum wages boiled over with police using water canon to break up a strike at a special economic zone in Bavet, close to the Vietnamese border earlier this week, according to media reports.
Thousands of workers at two factories have halted work since December 16 at several industrial zones to demand $8 on top of a new minimum wage of $140 a month. The strike spread at the weekend after four people were arrested for throwing stones.
The industry has seen several similar strikes in rows over pay, forced overtime and complaints of anti-union practices by factories. Last year, dozens of Cambodians were put on trial when similar protests got out of hand.
"Workers were water hosed as they walked to factories," said Nouth Bopinnaroath, a human rights worker at the group Licadho, who witnessed the break-up.
He said about 30 men and women had been detained.
Cambodia agreed in October to raise the minimum wage in the $5 billion garment sector to $140 per month from next year, far short of the sum sought by unions which had threatened to hold strikes if demands were not met.
Kem Chamroeun, a leader of the Union of Movement of Workers, described the strikes as wildcat and said unions had nothing to do with them. He said arrests would escalate the situation.
"Workers will just continue to strike," he said. "They won't accept this minimum wage and no one talked to them."
Garment manufacturing in Cambodia is worth 600,000 jobs that sustain rural families through orders from the likes of Gap, H&M, Adidas, Marks and Spencer and Walmart.
Strikes by increasingly assertive and politicized unions have left the government with a hard task of both satisfying wage needs and keeping Cambodia competitive.
Heng Sour, a Cambodian Labor Ministry spokesman, said the unrest was not a strike, but a riot.
"Some individuals posing as workers have destroyed private property and caused chaos among investors," he said, adding that the ministry supported the action taken by authorities".
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen last week urged immediate action to restore order as strikes "severely affect investors' sentiment and their long-term investment vision". (SH)
Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India