Cambodia's garment industry employs about 345,000 workers
PHNOM PENH — Cambodian union leaders on Thursday called off a mass strike by tens of thousands of garment workers demanding higher wages after the government stepped in and arranged talks with manufacturers.
Ath Thun, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, told AFP employees had started to return to work after unions released a joint statement saying the response from the government was reasonable.
Social Affairs Minister It Samheng said the government would sit down with both sides in the dispute on September 27 to discuss "benefits for garment and footwear workers".
The minister warned that further stoppages could "affect benefits for the workers, employers, and our nation that is facing the impact of the global financial crisis."
The breakthrough brings an end to the latest large-scale industrial action in an Asian country, where employees are growing increasingly vocal in their demands for a larger share of the region's economic success.
Cambodia's garment industry -- which produces items for renowned brands including Gap, Benetton, Adidas and Puma -- is a key source of foreign income for the country and employs about 345,000 workers.
Turnout estimates for the strike have been hotly disputed, with unions saying around 210,000 workers at 95 factories were on strike Thursday morning, up from 60,000 on Monday when they started the stoppage.
But the Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC) said Wednesday the figure was much lower, at around 30,000.
The strike followed a deal between the government and industry that set the minimum wage for garment and footwear staff at 61 dollars a month.
Unions say the salary is not enough to cover food, housing and travel expenses, and want a base salary of 93 dollars.
Manufacturers have warned that the strike will result in a loss of production and a drop in orders from buyers, harming Cambodia's standing among investors.