Cambodia: Violent protests boil over in Bavet

Police take cover behind riot shields as garment factory workers throw rocks at them during a protest that turned violent in Bavet yesterday morning.Police take cover behind riot shields as garment factory workers throw rocks at them during a protest that turned violent in Bavet yesterday morning.

23 Dec – Ongoing protests by striking garment workers in the Svay Rieng province town of Bavet spiralled into “anarchy” yesterday after protesters pelted police with rocks, aggravating an already volatile situation and spurring national authorities to begin mediation efforts.

Two military police were injured in the encounter, which took place in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone, according to Ros Tharith, provincial administration director.

“It became anarchy,” he said.

Police said no arrests were made.

According to Rex Lee, manager of the Manhattan SEZ, some 5,000 protesters gathered in the zone yesterday morning as part of an ongoing strike action that has rocked several SEZs in Bavet.

The incidents began at about 8:15am and lasted about an hour and a half. Workers threw rocks at factories and pelted police who had gathered to block them, while police once again utilised hoses from fire trucks to disperse them.

“They threw a rock at my head and my helmet broke and it went through,” military police officer Kaet Cheavon, 31, said as he sat on his hospital bed yesterday.

Cheavon said the protestors essentially “chased” the outnumbered police around the SEZ as there were “too many to arrest”. None of the injuries to police were critical.

The violence is the latest in a string of incidents that have rocked the SEZs since last Wednesday, when 30,000 workers at the Tai Seng and Manhattan SEZs walked out on the job.

The workers are not satisfied with next year’s raise in the minimum wage, demanding a $20 raise from the current rate of $128, $8 more than the $140 rate for 2016 set in October.

Continue reading “Cambodia: Violent protests boil over in Bavet”

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Cambodia: Mass arrest at Bavet garment protest

Police use a fire hose to disperse demonstrators at a protest in Bavet this morning, where thousands of garment workers are striking to demand an increase to the minimum wage.Police use a fire hose to disperse demonstrators at a protest in Bavet this morning, where thousands of garment workers are striking to demand an increase to the minimum wage.

20 Dec – A large group of striking garment workers has been arrested in the Svay Rieng province town of Bavet, officials and rights groups confirmed, during a day of protests that has seen water cannons used to disperse crowds.

Ros Tharith, provincial administration director, said authorities intercepted a “small number” of workers this morning who were supposedly carrying rocks that they were going to use to pelt a factory in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone.

“They wanted to incite other workers to come out,” he said.

“Our authorities did not crack down; we just took action to prevent them from using violence and arrested them, and we will wait to see how they explain themselves.”

But while there is no official tally of the number of those arrested yet, Nouth Bopinnaroath, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, estimated that more than 30 male and female workers were arrested.

“The men were tied down with ropes and hand-cuffed … It is not a good picture.”

Photos uploaded to local media and Facebook showed police dispersing strikers with water cannons.

Chea Oddom, provincial representative of the Cambodian Union for the Movement of Workers, said three trucks were loaded with arrested workers this morning. He estimated that some 8,000 workers were on strike today, down from a reported 30,000 last week.

The strikes began last Wednesday after workers demanded a $20 raise to the current minimum wage of $128, $8 more than the $140 figure mandated by the government in early October. Violence was soon reported after factories were pelted by stones and had their doors broken down.

Four garment workers were already arrested on Friday and charged with damages, violence and incitement on Sunday.

Cambodia: Massive protest over minimum wage continues in Bavet

Garment workers pour out of the Tai Seng Bavet SEZ earlier this week in Svay Rieng province during a large protest, calling for a higher minimum wage for the industry.Garment workers pour out of the Tai Seng Bavet SEZ earlier this week in Svay Rieng province during a large protest, calling for a higher minimum wage for the industry.

18 Dec – An unruly protest in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet town entered its second day yesterday as thousands of garment workers from a number of special economic zones continued to throw stones and break windows as they demonstrated for a greater increase to the national garment industry minimum wage.

According to Has Bunthy, director of the Svay Rieng provincial labour department, 30,000 workers from 39 factories in the Manhattan, Tai Seng 1 and Tai Seng 2 Special Economic Zones (SEZ) walked out on Wednesday afternoon following a meeting with Ministry of Labour representatives to discuss next year’s minimum wage hike to $140 a month, an amount the workers said was too low.

Protesters are demanding a $20 increase from the current minimum wage, or $148 a month, Bunthy and others at the scene said.

“The protest to break windows and destroy factory property first started with a group of protestors, many of whom are women, from the Kingmaker (Cambodia) shoe factory at the Manhattan SEZ,” he said. “They threatened people not to work or they would throw rocks, or bother them in other ways.”

Though a greater number of police were deployed to the area yesterday, “it looked like they didn’t dare crack down out of fear of repeating the case of Chhouk Bandith”, Bunthy said, referring to the former Bavet town governor who shot three garment workers during a protest in 2012.

“Also, no union has claimed leadership of the protests,” he added.

Sok Khemara, a local representative of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, confirmed yesterday that no union was responsible for the protest.

While the protesting workers were answerable for the damage, he said, local officials also had to accept a share of the guilt for keeping unions out of the SEZs, preventing them from educating workers about the minimum wage when it was first settled months ago.

At Kingmaker, the factory where the protest began, Khemara said, workers had no knowledge of the new wage before Wednesday’s meeting.

A factory worker at the Best Way factory, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that “a lot of the factory workers broke through the factory’s door and came in to ask me and the other workers to come out and join the demonstration”.

Though the worker declined to participate, he said he too was unhappy with the new wage, and supported protesters’ demands that it be raised to $148.

Bunthy, the provincial labour official, said factories wouldn’t agree to a higher wage, and that all officials could do was try to sell workers on $140 a month.

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia yesterday issued an open letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen characterising the protests as a “riot”, and calling on the authorities to restore order.

Continue reading “Cambodia: Massive protest over minimum wage continues in Bavet”

Sydney: TWU activists arrested at sit-in

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13 Nov – The Transport Workers’ Union has said it is planning further rallies and store sit-ins after 10 truck drivers and union activists were arrested yesterday during a peaceful demonstration at a Coles store in Parramatta.

The protest was one of several rallies held around Australia ahead of the annual general meeting of Coles’ parent company Wesfarmers. Protesters highlighted the 330 deaths in truck-related crashes each year because of the pressure by wealthy retailers.

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Coles’ low cost contracts are forcing truck drivers to speed, drive long hours with over-loaded vehicles.

Relatives of people killed in truck-crashes and TWU activists confronted Coles’ bosses during the annual general meeting in Perth yesterday over the company’s stance on safety. When pressed on whether the company would sign up to a safety charter, Wesfarmers chairman Bob Every replied: “Short answer is no.”

Continue reading “Sydney: TWU activists arrested at sit-in”

Indonesia: Vandals attack Go-Jek office as discontent simmers inside and out

2 Nov – On Sunday, at around 10:35 local time, two men on a motorcycle drove up in front of one of Go-Jek’s offices in South Jakarta and shattered a window by throwing an object, or by firing a shot at the building. The office was empty at the time. No one was hurt, and the two suspects were able to escape.

In case you don’t live in Indonesia, Go-Jek is an on-demand “Uber for motorcycles” app that lets users book rides and other services like food delivery and parcel transport at the click of a button.

Go-Jek was not available for comment, though the firm did publish a note on its Facebook page about the incident.

We would like to assure you that the incident is being handled by the responsible authorities and that all of Go-Jek’s facilities are equipped with CCTV cameras […] No one was hurt in the incident […] We have not found bullets at the location, only a part of a screw driver which is thought to have been used by the suspect.

Before the CCTV footage became available, the items collected at the scene led police to assume that the weapon used was homemade, and that the tip of the screwdriver was used as the projectile. The suspects fired only a single shot, police concluded. CCTV footage obtained by the police later seems to suggest the projectile was not fired at all, but hurled at the window by hand.

Go-Jek and similar motorcycle services have become popular in Indonesia’s capital, leading them to recruit thousands of new drivers throughout the year. However, some groups of informal motorcycle taxi drivers (called ojek) have not reacted well to the emergence of app-based services. Ojeks have traditionally been the ones to perform these kinds of jobs, without being part of a regulated system. Many of these informal service providers see companies like Go-Jek as a threat to their income and livelihoods.

Past clashes now lead many to speculate that the simmering conflict between informal ojek drivers and Go-Jek might be the cause for this act of vandalism.

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Continue reading “Indonesia: Vandals attack Go-Jek office as discontent simmers inside and out”

Cambodia: Situation ripe for more strikes

2 Oct – Short-sightedness, weak adherence to the law and poor working conditions in Cambodia’s garment sector are creating a fertile field for strikes to prevail over negotiations, a recent study released by the Arbitration Council Foundation, an independent labour mediator, has found.

According to the study, incidents of striking have considerably increased in the disputes the council mediated, going from 17 in 2012 to 94 in 2014. While compensation issues were by far the most common demands in strike cases the council oversaw – making up 37 per cent of all cases during a one-year period from April 2014 to 2015 – it was far from the only factor enabling the proliferation of strike action.

Because many employers offer only the most minimal protections required by the law, strikes are not used as a last resort but as a negotiation tactic, the study says, beginning on an “ad hoc basis rather than as part of a campaign to achieve broad based CBAs [collective bargaining agreements]”.

CBAs, or governing contracts drawn up between unions and employers, are seen as smoothing industrial relations by avoiding the use of strikes while setting up clear standards for workers.

But a range of issues hamper the effective implementation of CBAs in Cambodia, according to the report, such as the lack of a separate labour court to handle cases involving a wide number of demands.

“An inability to promulgate various claims at one time and achieve a longstanding resolution in the form of a CBA provides many more ad hoc opportunities for strikes to occur,” the report reads.

Employers’ tendency to reimburse striking workers’ salaries has also led to a system in which strike pay is used as a consolation prize, often awarded in lieu of strikers’ more “substantive demands”, the report says.

Meanwhile, the industry’s attempt to co-opt the labour movement through the use of pro-employer, or “yellow”, unions has had the side effect of proliferating minority unions as workers become frustrated and disenchanted with yellow representation.

William Conklin, country director of the US-based Solidarity Center, said that Cambodian workers’ overreliance on strikes exists largely because other measures lead nowhere.

“The avenues are very limited for unions,” he said. “Ideally, strikes wouldn’t be used, but you also want to get towards employers [providing] a decent working situation.”

Conklin added that effective CBAs were largely absent due to the little respect employers paid to minimum labour standards, leading to confrontation rather than negotiation as the chief conduit of action.

“You can’t have dialogue when [only] union members are being terminated,” he said.

However, Ken Loo, secretary general for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that establishing CBAs was difficult due to minority unions disrupting the CBA process merely to “get benefits out of the situation”.

Loo added that unions themselves did not respect the Labour Law when they went on strike, ignoring rules such as providing prior notice.

“All their strikes are illegal, they don’t comply with procedures,” he said.

Saudi Arabia: Riot at Indonesian consulate

10 June: Several people were injured when irate Indonesian expatriate workers set fire to a part of their Consulate in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Sunday, apparently frustrated over the delay in processing their applications to make their stay in the Kingdom legal, Arab media reported quoting officials.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control before spreading to the Consulate’s main building. Unconfirmed reports said one woman was killed in the incident, but police said some people were only injured.

The incident followed a stampede on Saturday when Indonesian women stormed the Consulate in which at least three women were seriously injured, while several fainted.

The Indonesian diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia are among those swamped with undocumented nationals trying to meet the July 3 deadline set by the Saudi government for “illegals” to rectify their visa status. Confrontation between expatriates, police and Consulate officials stemmed from Indonesian workers’ frustration over long delays and alleged lack of organization at the Consulate, the report said. Continue reading “Saudi Arabia: Riot at Indonesian consulate”