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Garment Workers in Cambodia, Bangladesh Protest Minimum Wage Amount, Cost Industry Millions of Dollars

Dec 31, 2013 12:28 PM EST
Bangladesh Fire
(Photo : REUTERS/Andrew Biraj )

Tensions are high in Cambodia and Bangladesh - two of the world's biggest apparel manufacturing countries - as strikes and protests in these areas shut down the fashion industries there.

Protesters are demanding governmental change in both countries, in addition to an increase in the minimum wage for apparel industry workers, who are part of one of the key manufacturing sectors in Cambodia and Bangladesh.

On Monday, garment workers in Cambodia continued the protests for a higher minimum wage, which began last week. The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which represents the country's exporting factories, refused to attend a meeting on Monday with independent unions to discuss the issue.

Last Tuesday, the government said that the minimum wage for garment workers in Cambodia would be increased by $15 to $95 a month beginning in April, but workers and unions believe minimum wage should be increased to $160 a month and have been holding large demonstrations to make their point.

These demonstrations have resulted in the shutdown of garment factories throughout the country. GMAC released a statement on Monday in which it accused six independent unions of destroying factory property, encouraging protests and keeping factory employees from working.

"[O]ur industry is unable to continue operations given the current situation," the statement said.

"All the six unions must be responsible for the destruction of the factories and manufacturers, as well as the lost wages of the workers, their unemployment and the loss of investment."

Because of the actions of the unions, an estimated $10 million to $15 million is lost a day during the shutdown, GMAC chairman Van Sou Ieng said.

"Why should we attend [the meeting] when we are threatened by violence and we are without protection?" Sou Ieng said.

"The worst is that the credibility of Cambodia as a supplier country will be affected. People might not want to continue to place orders in Cambodia because they are not sure if we can deliver."

Workers and manufacturers were ordered to return to work by Thursday by the Ministry of Labor. The minimum wage amount will reportedly remain at $95.

"[The protest] has seriously impacted the workers' benefits and the state economy," the ministry said.

"Competent authorities will take measures seriously through the law to the people who still incite and cause problems to the employees and manufacturers."

The ministry also ordered all unions to stop striking immediately or they will be subject to legal action. 

These demonstrations have brought working conditions in factories in low-cost countries back into the spotlight. 

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