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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - GMAC warns unions of strikes, says work stoppages taking toll

GMAC warns unions of strikes, says work stoppages taking toll

Mounting costs and production losses caused by striking garment workers could make life worse for the rest of Cambodia’s factories

THE garment industry is losing millions of dollars to an increasing number of strikes, industry officials say, warning that work stoppages could imperil the already troubled textile sector.

On average, a factory loses US$20,000 each time it endures a strike, as productivity plummets but electricity and security costs spike, said Cheat Khemara, a senior labour officer with the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC).

One factory where workers have now struck for more than 20 days has lost $1 million.

"When there are more strikes, factories can't produce enough to meet their deadlines, so they have to pay higher transport costs to ship by air," Cheat Khemara said. "If they arrive late, then buyers will pay a lower price or refuse to buy them altogether."

Chea Mony, president of the Kingdom's largest labour group, the Free Trade Union (FTU), said about 88 strikes occurred between January and July of this year.

Forty of these involved the FTU, he said. However, he added, many of the unions that stop work are government-sponsored.

Labour leaders have also complained that factory managers often refuse to negotiate with disgruntled workers, forcing them to strike in order to press home their grievances.

But the unions are too quick to walk out of work, Cheat Khemara said, and lose their negotiating power.

"If unions convince workers to return to the line, they can negotiate for better benefits from their employers," Cheat Khemara said.

"If not, they will convince them to find work in other factories.... Factories that need more workers make promises that they never intend to keep," he said.

Cambodia exported more than $1.6 billion in garments to the United States in the first half of 2008, a 2.2 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the US Department of Commerce.

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