Labour Minister criticises protesters

Source: Khmer  Times

Riot Police, Guards Block Labor Day Marchers

The Labour Ministry yesterday criticised a group of 2,000 protestors who took to the streets demanding liveable wages, saying that such rallies were no way to discuss income issues.
Minister Ith Samheng said that the celebration of International Labour Day was marred by the protestors who gathered in Phnom Penh to demand that the government increase the national minimum wage.
“At the same time we’re celebrating International Labour Day here, these are unions and vocational organisations gathering and disrupting public order,” he said.
He also claimed that the protest was funded by “sponsors” which he deemed a waste of time and resources.
“I want to ask the sponsors, why don’t they want to spend their money to develop our infrastructure or to train our workers? It is better than supporting these unions and organisations who conduct activities which impact our society,” he said.
“Why have they chosen to gather outside and started yelling? We can sit and talk to each other here in order to find a solution together instead.”
About 2,000 workers along with 10 union leaders and various organizations representing different sectors in Cambodia attempted to march to the National Assembly to celebrate International Labour Day as well as to submit a petition to the government.
The group demanded an increase in wages as well as improved work conditions – particularly on health and safety – in all workplaces and factories. Currently, garment workers earn a minimum of $153 monthly while teachers and doctors earn at least $238 every month.
Scores  of armed forces were deployed to manage and disperse the crowd. The group made it as far as the Russian Embassy before the authorities prevented them from advancing to the National Assembly. They remained there for two hours before dispersing.
However the protesters still managed to hand their petition over to CPP lawmaker Lork Kheng, who is also the deputy chairwoman of the Assembly’s Commission on Human Rights and Complaints.
Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn said yesterday that the country’s formal workforce had been in existence for 131 years but their rights and living standards were still squalid.
“The reason we are here is to send a message and demand attention from the government and the National Assembly. We are still faced with many difficulties today, that is why we are here asking the National Assembly to help us,” Mr Thorn said.
“I hope the authorities will help us so next year we don’t have to march any more,” he said.
Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance Trade Unions, said that the minimum wage was far too little for workers to live comfortably, more so in Phnom Penh where the cost of living was rising faster than their wages.
“The minimum wage increases only $5 each year so if we do not demand that our wages increase, along with ensuring our rights in other areas, no one will help us on their own volition.
All of us must gather every year to demand a resolution from the government,” she said.
Mr Kheng, who accepted the petition from the group on behalf of the government, had little to say about their demands apart from his thanking them for their efforts.
“I would like to say thank you and I appreciate that all of you know that we are all entitled to certain rights in society.
On behalf of lawmakers, which all of you consider as your parents, know that we love and pity you as our children,” he said.
“I will take this petition and all of your demands, and I will give it to the president of the National Assembly and to the prime minister,” she added.
The Labour Ministry last month said that a new minimum wage law would come into effect by the year’s end.

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