Thousands of Cambodian garment workers end strike over bonus

PHNOM PENH - Thousands of Cambodian garment workers have gone back to work after striking to demand a US$50 (S$62.70) bonus in return for shunning walkouts in the kingdom's lucrative but troubled garment sector, a union leader said on Monday.

Some 20,000 workers at around 30 factories near the Vietnamese border went on strike a fortnight ago demanding the bonus after two factories rewarded employees for not participating in recent walkouts, which routinely cripple the industry.

"Most of the workers have resumed their work, and only those at three factories are still on strike on Monday," Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, told AFP.

He said the factories did not agree to pay the US$50 bonus, but reassured workers that they will "find a solution" to the dispute.

A police chief in eastern Bavet city, where the factories are based in two special economic zones, confirmed the workers were back at work.

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) has repeatedly denied factories had promised to pay workers for not striking.

In a statement on its website the GMAC said the strike stopped production at the factories, although it did not say how much it cost the firms or if they were making garments for international brands.

GMAC said the employers would not pay wages and other benefits for the days lost to the strike - in line with local labour law.

But unionists warned that may trigger new walkouts.

About 650,000 workers provide the backbone of Cambodia's multi-billion dollar garment industry - a key source of foreign income for the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

Garment workers have been at the forefront of labour protests for higher wages and have faced several crackdowns by Cambodian authorities.

At least four civilians were killed in early January when police opened fire on protesting textile factory workers who were calling for a minimum wage of $160 a month to make clothes for brands including Gap, Nike and H&M.

Twenty-three of those arrested during the crackdown went on trial last month, despite international appeals for their release.

The court adjourned the trial to May 6.

Rights groups say if convicted the defendants - most of whom have been detained for months without bail - could face up to five years' jail.

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