Thousands of Cambodian garment workers pressing for higher wages have joined opposition protests demanding that Prime Minister Hun Sen step down and call a new election.
Thursday’s opposition rally in the capital, Phnom Penh, coincided with a strike by about 300,000 garment workers for higher pay.
The government and the factory owners know that workers cannot survive with the current salary, but why can't they agree to increase the wages?
The opposition, headed by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy, had asked the textile industry’s workforce to join its daily rallies in the capital in an attempt to oust the long-ruling Hun Sen.
The last election extended Hun Sen’s 28-year rule in the poor Southeast Asian nation, but the opposition alleges that he won through vote-rigging and has boycotted parliament for more than five months.
“I’m aware of the difficulties facing the workers and have helped them for 20 years. Now I am ready to help them again,” said Rainsy. “That is the difference with Hun Sen, who is sticking with factories owners.”
Cambodia’s government recently announced that it would increase garment workers’ wages from $80 to $95 starting in April of next year.
But workers insist the increase is not enough and are demanding wages of $160 per month in 2014.
“We cannot accept the increase. It is so little. The workers will continue with the strike if there is no resolution,” Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, told the AFP news agency.
Protests came after the country’s garment manufacturers association urged its members to stop operations for one week, citing concerns that demonstrators might damage factories if workers did not join the strike.
Cambodia’s garment industry employs more than 500,000 people and many workers have been striking for several months.
“The government and the factory owners know that workers cannot survive with the current salary, but why can’t they agree to increase the wages?” said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers.
The country has close to 500 factories that produce clothing and shoes for foreign brands.
Workers frequently dispute wages and safety conditions.
Low wages entice clothing manufacturers to set up factories in Cambodia.