SINGAPORE — A three-day strike by Cambodian workers at a Malaysian garment factory ended peacefully Thursday, Malaysian workers rights activists said. This bout of industrial action, which took place in the southern Malaysian state of Johor, is the most recent in a series of strikes undertaken by Cambodian garment industry workers.
Cambodian employees at Honsin Apparel Sdn Bhd went on strike after some workers were allegedly locked in the company’s plant after rejecting a new contract, according to Aegile Fernandez, a consultant at Tenaganita, the workers' rights group that helped negotiate a settlement between the workers and the factory. She said that 196 Cambodian workers took part in the strike. She added that an undetermined number of Indonesian and Nepalese workers also went on strike Tuesday, but returned to work earlier after interventions by their respective country’s diplomatic missions.
According to the Phnom Penh Post, the company denies locking in any workers. Multiple attempts on to reach Lau Boon Hua, Honsin’s general manager, for comment were unsuccessful.
"There were three key problems that led to the strike," said Irene Fernandez, executive director of Tenaganita, in a phone interview. She said that employees who had been promised 26 Malaysian ringgits a day, or $8.35 at current exchange, were only paid 21 ringgits, or $6.74, daily and that they had not been paid for at least one month. Workers were also forced to pay 130 ringgits, or $41.75, a month for their lodging in a hostel, up from the current 80 ringgits, or $25.70. In Malaysia, the employer often absorbs such costs, she said.
Irene Fernandez said that a compromise had been reached and that the employees’ wages were to be hiked to 25 ringgits, or $8, a day and their outstanding salaries paid immediately. She said negotiations on the hostel fees were ongoing.
"Migrant workers are usually highly tolerant in accepting work conditions," she said. "I see this as a positive sign." Irene Fernandez said that Cambodians constitute the majority of migrant workers at Honsin Apparel Sdn Bhd, which, according to the Malaysian Knitting Manufacturers Association, employs 1,334 people.
Earlier this year, Malaysia's government moved to implement a minimum wage of 900 ringgits, or $289, a month for workers on the Malaysian Peninsula, where much of the country's industry is located. Workers in the more rural territories of Sabah and Sarawak will see their wages climb to at least 800 ringgits, or $257, a month. The government’s actions follow a wave of minimum wage legislation across Southeast Asia over the past year.
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