Minister praises 2013 protest crackdown

Mom Kunthear / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Mr Sam Heng said women would have suffered in any conflict. Supplied

The Labor Minister yesterday lauded the government’s crackdown of a garment worker protest back in late 2013 and early 2014, which he claimed was necessary to avoid a war.
Speaking at a ceremony to celebrate tomorrow’s International Women’s Day, themed “Women for peace and progress,” Ith Sam Heng said it was the government’s quick response to the protest that prevented the country from plunging into chaos.
“All of you may know and still remember the big demonstration that began on December 24, 2013, and ran until January 4, 2014, which caused many people to be injured and killed,” he said.
“That demonstration, if we didn’t solve it and crack down in time, it could have become a color revolution and could have led to a war and chaos throughout society.
“When problems or war occurs, the people most affected are women who are miserable,” he added.
He again warned against a color revolution when speaking about the successful efforts his ministry and Prime Minister Hun Sen had made when dealing with protesters gathered at the ministry demanding fair wages.
He surmised it was “proper guidance from the wise and firm” government that “resolved” the many protests and returned peace to the kingdom.
“No matter in what case, our government cannot let a color revolution happen, especially the Committee for the Settlement of Strikes and Demonstrations, which targets all levels that women work in. We cannot let this issue happen again,” he said.
National Trade Union Confederation president Fa Saly said, however, that the government focus on the 2013 demonstration showed its ignorance of the many problems faced by garment workers.
He said the 11-day protest was a last resort for garment workers after they were repeatedly ignored in their pursuit of basic labor rights such as fair wages, regular working hours and paid overtime.
“The demonstration at the end of 2013 and early 2014 was the last choice of the workers to gather to demand a wage that was enough for a decent living,” he said.
“But what I am so regretful for was the brutal crackdown on demonstrators who were no more than gentle workers.
“They were only demanding what was rightfully their benefits and a decent living wage.”
President of the Cambodia Labor Federation, Ath Thorn, also released a statement in conjunction with International Women’s Day, asking Prime Minister Hun Sen to solve the garment workers’ problems by protecting their basic rights.
He also mooted the idea of creating a labor court to solve labor disputes as well as to discuss the increase in the minimum wage.
At least three protesting garment workers were killed on January 3, 2014, when armed forces opened fire on the crowd and stormed the area in a bid to disperse them.
At least 29 were severely injured in the clash.
The protest was triggered when the government ignored appeals from unions to increase the minimum wage to $160.
Instead, the government raised the minimum wage from $80 to $95 for full-time workers.
Now the minimum wage for garment workers is $153, but unions and workers still say it is insufficient, especially given the rising cost of living.

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