Cambodian garment workers injured in police clash: unions

PHNOM PENH, Sept 18, 2010 (AFP) - Five Cambodian garment workers were injured in a clash with police on Saturday, unions said, as tension between staff and bosses continued despite the end of mass strikes.

Violence erupted when police tried to break up a rally of about 3,000 factory employees who had gathered to protest a ban on 26 activists from returning to work after last week's huge stoppage, Ath Thun told AFP.

"The military police sent to crack down on the strike injured five strikers and the clash lasted for half an hour," the president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation said.

The incident in Kandal province, south of Phnom Penh, follows a decision to call off a large-scale strike across the country's key garment industry after the government stepped in and arranged talks with manufacturers.

Unions said the four-day stoppage that ended Thursday attracted up to 210,000 people demanding better pay, although the Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC) had a more modest estimate of 30,000.

Ath Thun accused some factories of refusing to let certain staff return to work because of their involvement in organising strike action.

Kong Athit, vice-president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions, said that the Kandal factory was acting against the government's intervention.

"What the factory does is wrong because the Minister of Social Affairs has called for a discussion soon and we all should go back to work normally and wait for the meeting," he added.

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.

The mass strike from Monday to Thursday 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.

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