UPDATE: CAMBODIA: Garment worker strike comes to an end
A two-week long strike in Cambodia's garment sector has finally come to an end after escalating violence against protestors last week led to the deaths of at least four people.
Ken Loo, secretary general at the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), today (6 January) confirmed to just-style that the demonstrations on the streets have ended and that most factories have resumed their operations.
However, in terms of attendance he said only about 60% of workers have returned, after many fled to their home towns out of concerns for personal safety and security.
"We are convinced that when they see that the government is able to maintain law and order they will return to their workplace within the next few days," Loo said.
As Cambodia's largest industrial sector, accounting for some US$5bn a year in exports and around 400,000 jobs, the shutdown has had huge implications for a sector which continues to operate in an intensely competitive international environment.
Loo said that it is so far impossible to "estimate or gauge the impact of the strike both financially or in terms of buyers' reaction."
But he added that as long as the government "continues to demonstrate its ability and willingness to implement the law and ensure worker safety," then the "damage done to the industry and the blow dealt to investor confidence will be repairable and, in the long run, this will even have a positive impact."
In recent weeks, thousands of garment workers have been protesting in Cambodia over plans to raise wages.
The Labour Advisory Committee on 24 December proposed to double the minimum wage for textile, garment and footwear factory workers from the current level of US$80 per month to US$160 per month over the next five years.
This proposed pay increase would see minimum wages rise from US$80 to US$95 per month in 2014 from 1 April. Minimum wages would then rise to US$110 in 2015, US$126 in 2016, US$143 in 2017 and US$160 in 2018.
However, trade unions want the minimum level to be raised to US$160 immediately.
The garment worker protests also added fuel to political demonstrations calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen and a re-run of the election.
Escalating violence against the protestors last week led to the deaths of at least four people after military police opened fire at the Canadia Industrial Area on Veng Sreng Road. As well as the fatalities, dozens were left wounded.
The violence followed clashes the previous day between rioters and "intervention forces" trying to maintain law and order near the Yak Jin factory in Phnom Penh's Pursenchey district - which is believed to produce clothing for international brands including Gap, Walmart, Pink and Old Navy.
The dispute led to a virtual shutdown of the country's garment industry - with the International Labour Organization (ILO) warning that the economic fallout from the protests and the industry's response "may impact significantly on the industry's revenues while tarnishing the country's reputation among international buyers."
Observers described the aggression as the worst state violence against civilians to hit Cambodia in 15 years.
In recent days pressure has been mounting for restraint by all sides in the dispute and an urgent investigation into the clashes.
Amnesty International, the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR), and Cambodian rights group LICADHO led calls for an end to the unrest.
"There must be a swift and independent investigation into whether excessive force had been used on this occasion and the previous two occasions," urged Surya P Subedi, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia.
Subedi also expressed concern that some demonstrators were increasingly resorting to violence and had been throwing stones and damaging property.
He called for meaningful negotiations over the demands by garment workers, who began protesting several weeks ago for an increase in the minimum wage.
According to LICADHO, military forces have been mobilised after the Ministry of Defence, which said it would protect at all costs the results of the election and the current government.
Amnesty International is joining calls for an investigation into the violence, and says those responsible for deaths and injuries must be held to account.
"As with so many human rights violations in Cambodia, the lack of accountability for these incidents is a reminder of the pervasive culture of impunity in the country," said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher.
"There must be root and branch change to ensure the perpetrators of violations are brought to book."
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