Cambodian garment workers are demanding a monthly wage of $160 (Photo credit: LICADHO)

Cambodian garment workers are demanding a monthly wage of $160 (Photo credit: LICADHO)

Cambodia's garment workers are pressing ahead with their demand for higher wages - having staged a four-day overtime boycott, they are now ready for a four-day nationwide stay-at-home strike starting next week.

"Nearly 300,000 workers took part in the overtime boycott from 24-28 February," Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), which represents 30,000 workers, told just-style.

Most importantly, the boycott caused "production and shipment delays," he said.

But Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) secretary general Ken Loo dismissed its impact, saying: "Very few factories were affected" adding the number is "less than 50 at the peak."

This however is only the first phase of a protest campaign, added Sina. A nationwide no-show protest is planned from 12 March "unless our wages are increased and the 21 workers imprisoned during a government crackdown on protests in January, are released."

Cambodia's long-running labour unrest started in December 2013 when workers demanded their US$80 monthly minimum wage be doubled. But the government only increased it to US$100, effective last month, sparking further protests.

In January, the Cambodian government requested that the International Labour Organization (ILO) set a robust minimum wage fixing system.

"This requires a basic consensus between the government, employers and workers on the criteria that should guide future minimum wage adjustment," ILO Cambodia national coordinator Sophorn Tun said. 

"A thorough analysis of data in line with these criteria and a full consideration of the findings by Cambodia's Labour Advisory Committee," will be undertaken in the next round of minimum wage adjustments, he added.

The government has not yet shown any signs it will re-negotiate the minimum wage, but wants workers to respect the new increase, national ILO gender and trade union consultant Yim Serey Vathanak added.

Meanwhile global unions are stepping up calls for dialogue with the Cambodian government to try to avoid "an escalation of the conflict and a complete breakdown in relations between unions, the government and factory owners," according to IndustriAll's general secretary Jyrki Raina.

The global union says that despite a constructive meeting with government ministers, global unions and brands last month, it is alarmed by the recent turn of events which has seen the government refusing to register new unions until a new trade union law is passed, which might not be until the end of the year.

It says the government suspension of the freedom of association is in direct contravention of ILO's Convention 87, ratified by Cambodia, which guarantees that workers and employers shall have the right to establish and to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation.

IndustriAll is also "deeply disappointed" by the intention of the GMAC to file a US$72m lawsuit against six leaders of union groups.

As well as the stay-at-home strike by garment workers from 12 March, unions are planning a public forum on International Women's Day on Saturday (8 March) in support of better pay for garment workers, 80% of whom are women.

With additional reporting by Leonie Barrie.