Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) – There have been a series of clashes between textile workers and security forces in the province of Svay Rieng in the south-east of Cambodia, near the border with Vietnam.
The workers have been on strike for a week, to ask for a raise in the minimum wage and better working conditions. In recent days, police arrested about 60 workers who were on strike: the officers dispersed the crowd of demonstrators using water cannons. The recent demonstrations are a further confirmation of the tension that reigns among Cambodia’s workforce and, in particular, in the manufacturing sector, which has seen past incidents and protests.
The most recent protests are the result of joint strikes launched by the employees of different companies in Manhattan and Tai Seng, special economic zones of the town of Bavet in Svay Rieng province. They demanded an increase in the minimum wage and the release of the workers detained in recent days. At least three people were injured in the clashes.
The strike involved about 8 thousand workers. Last week more than 30 thousand workers had downed tools. Protesters organized the protest to demand a raise to $ 148 per month as minimum wage, compared with the current 128. Eight dollars more than what was promised last October by the government in Phnom Penh. Speaking to Radio Free Asia (RFA), one of the strike leaders accused the authorities of "obstructing" rather than "facilitate negotiations", threatening the demonstrators and using force to disperse the crowds.
Cambodia's garment industry, which employs an estimated 700 thousand people and exported .3 billion of apparel and shoes in 2013, was thrust into the spotlight in January 2014 when police and soldiers cracked down on workers protesting for a higher minimum wage, killing at least five people.
The year before, a shoe factory collapsed, killing at least two workers. The garment industry has been one of the key drivers of the Cambodian economy, which the World Bank forecasts will expand 7.5 percent this year, the fastest pace in all of East Asia. At least 700 factories scattered throughout the country, which produce goods for well-known international brands such as Gap, Nike and H & M.
The problem of safety at the workplace is also common in many Asian countries. In April of 2013 there was international uproar following the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, a building in which five textile companies were housed. The collapse killed more than a thousand people.