One person was killed and eight were injured when Cambodian riot police responded to a garment workers’ strike on Tuesday with sticks, tear gas, and guns, according to Reuters. It was “one of the most violent crackdowns on labor unrest in years,” author Prak Chan Thul notes.
An estimated 1,000 garment workers from the SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd. factory took to the streets in a strike to demand higher pay and better working conditions. They were met by hundreds of police, some with AK47s, who tried to break it up. Protestors set a police car and motorcycles on fire. Thirty-seven people were arrested.
This is not the first demonstration from the country’s garment workers that was met with violence. In May, at least 23 were injured when 3,000 workers took to the streets to demand higher pay and police similarly tried to break it up. Periodic strikes have been taking place since mid-May to demand a $14 higher minimum wage increase over the current level of $74 a month.
Violent protests over low pay and poor working conditions in the garment industry have also rocked Bangladesh. Protesting workers demanding a bigger increase to the country’s minimum wage than is being offered by the government were met with water cannons and rubber bullets on Monday, and on Tuesday dozens of workers were injured.
Bangladeshi garment workers are the world’s worst paid, and even the 77 percent raise in the minimum wage that the government has offered in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed over 1,000 would keep them in that status. They make just 14 percent of what would be considered a living wage. Cambodian workers are the world’s second worst paid and have seen their wages decline in buying power by more than 19 percent over the past decade.
Cambodia has also been home to factory collapses, with two killed and seven injured earlier this year in a shoe factory. The disaster in Bangladesh has led 70 retailers to sign on to a legally binding safety upgrade plan, but progress so far is slow. Yet a majority of the country’s factories are vulnerable to collapse and the total cost of upgrading all of them has been estimated to come to $3 billion, or just 10 cents more per garment.