PHNOM PENH, June 18 Sixteen Cambodian garment
workers and union representatives have been charged with
inciting violence and damaging property during a strike for
higher pay at a factory making clothes for U.S. sportswear
company Nike, a lawyer said on Tuesday.
Low-cost labour has attracted Western brands to Cambodia and
garments now account for around 75 percent of exports from the
Southeast Asian country, but strikes over pay and working
conditions have become common.
Up to 4,000 workers at Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment
Manufacturing Co, which employs more than 5,000 people, went on
strike on May 21. Police intervened to end protests on May 27
and on June 3, when some strikers rampaged through the factory.
Lawyer Kuch Ratha told Reuters that eight workers were in
custody and the other people charged were in hiding.
"The court has denied our request for bail for the eight,"
The Free Trade Union (FTU), which is active at the Sabrina
plant, said last week that 288 workers had been fired on June 6
and 7 for going on strike.
Sabrina said in a statement on Tuesday that only 62
employees had been dismissed and that was for violent conduct
during the stoppage, not for just going on strike.
"Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing Co. regrets having
to take this action but feels strongly that threats to our
workers' safety, property damage and violence cannot be
ignored," it said.
The strikers wanted Sabrina to give them $14 a month to help
pay for transport, rent and healthcare on top of their $74
minimum wage. Sabrina says it already pays more than the
The FTU said about 300 members remained on strike as the
company had not met their demands.
Sabrina said a state mediation body, the Strike Prevention
Committee, had declared the strike over. Some 94 employees had
not shown up for work and were considered to have given up their
jobs, but it would welcome an application if they wanted to come
FTU President Chea Mony said those who had stayed away did
so because they feared they would be implicated in the violence.
"This is discrimination against the union -- Sabrina doesn't
want another union inside the factory," Chea Mony said.
Members of the rival Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers'
Democratic Union did not take part in the strike.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) monitors pay and
working conditions at many factories in Cambodia but strikes and
sometimes violent protests have been on the rise as unions
emboldened by a shortage of skilled workers push for higher
wages and improved safety.
Strikes by the more than 300,000 garment workers in the
country nearly quadrupled last year to 134, industry body the
Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia says. The 48
strikes this year already exceed those in the whole of 2010 or