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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New study highlights extent of garment worker struggles

New study highlights extent of garment worker struggles

One in 10 workers was replaced or fired at least twice in 2009, says ILO survey

Unemployed workers are interested in job training, but can't afford to not generate income.

GARMENT workers continue to feel the brunt of the global economic crisis that threw the sector into turmoil, a study from the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia initiative has revealed.

A preliminary survey, released Thursday, examined the conditions and hardships faced by 1,200 employed and 800 unemployed Phnom Penh-based garment workers.

One in 10 workers surveyed had been replaced or fired from a garment-factory job two or more times during 2009, the study detailed.

Of those terminated, 63 percent remained unemployed, 16.5 percent had found new garment factory jobs, while 6 percent had found employment in other sectors. According to the ILO report, more than three-quarters of unemployed workers did not receive advance notice of termination.

The garment sector – Cambodia’s largest exporter – was severely affected by the global downturn, as demand for its products went overseas.

Last year, more than 68,190 jobs were terminated and 153 garment and shoe factories shut down or suspended work, Ministry of Labour’s figures show.

In 2009, exports of garment and apparel slumped by 15.83 percent, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

The report shows that employed workers saw their monthly wages reduced by an average of $17 in 2009, compared to 2008. Around 53 percent of workers cited reductions in overtime as a reason for their reduced income.

Wage levels within the garment industry have been the focus of negotiations between unions and the private sector in recent months.

In February, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) commenced talks with the Ministry of Labour, the Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and various other organizations to increase the minimum monthly garment-worker wage from $50 to $93.

That figure was based on a report released by the Cambodian Labour Union Federation and the National Institute of Statistics, which showed that around $90 is the minimum monthly income adequate for basic living in Phnom Penh.

“I feel that all parties involved are working toward a resolution as soon as we can, it is just very early in the process,” said Ken Loo, General Secretary for GMAC, adding that no more formal negotiations had begun since the initial meeting.

Loo went on to refute allegations made in the report that employers have been neglecting safety measures in order to cut costs, an observation reported by 39 percent of workers.

“I don’t think that it is a fair accusation. How would garment factories profit from cutting corners on safety or providing a healthy work environment?” he said.

The report lists preliminary goals to improve the sector. Anne Ziebarth, legal specialist for Better Factories Cambodia, told the Post: “We observed that many unemployed workers are interested in job training, but can’t afford to not generate income during training sessions.

“Also, many workers are interested in starting their own business.”

The ILO hopes that members of all sectors of society can come together to alleviate the plight of the garment workers who are facing economic hardships in Cambodia.

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