Cambodia's garment exports exceeded US$1 billion during the first quarter of 2012, yet many factories are failing to pay workers proper maternity leave benefits or address issues of fainting, a labour report says.
The International Labour Organization-Better Factories Cambodia’s Twenty Eighth Synthesis Report on Working Conditions in Cambodia’s Garment Sector, released yesterday, profiles 136 of the 320 factories registered with Better Factories in the six months to April 30.
It found only 54 per cent of garment factories were paying women some or all of their maternity benefits – an 11 per cent drop from the previous six-month period and a 20 per cent fall in just a year.
Nearly all of Cambodia’s garment workers are women with an average age of 24, ILO-Better Factories chief technical adviser Jill Tucker said.
“The deterioration of compliance in this area is worrisome and must be addressed.”
Hundreds have collapsed in mass fainting incidents in the past year, but few factories have made changes to prevent incidents occurring again, the report says.
This is something that concerns a Better Factories advisory committee, which includes representatives from the government, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia and trade unions.
“We note with regret that there has been little significant improvement in compliance in areas related to the causes cited for group fainting such as heat levels, the availability of soap and water near factory toilets and limiting overtime work, with many of these areas still below 50 per cent in compliance,” a statement says.
Meas Sokhorn, deputy director of the Free Trade Union in Kampong Chhnang province, said garment workers remained concerned about fainting, especially after two mass faintings at the M&V factory in August.
“The environment in this factory is still not so good,” she said. “There is a smell of smoke, and unclean drinking water.
“Workers’ health is weak, so sometimes they cannot endure the clothes smell, the stuffiness and the lack of fresh air.”
The report says 30 under-age workers were detected in the monitored factories – the most since October 2006, almost one in five factories engaged in discrimination, and strikes had increased since an industry Memorandum of Understanding lapsed in October.
All 16 strikes in monitored factories had failed to adhere to at least one of the Labour Law requirements, which came as no surprise to GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo.
“That’s been the case for the last 10 reports. That’s what the unions do,” he said, adding that GMAC advised members to pay maternity leave benefits.
Dave Welsh, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said the report presented only part of what was happening.
“There’s a more precise report that goes to the brands. The whole picture is even more troubling,” he said, adding GMAC didn’t want this information disclosed.
Strikes had increased because the MoU had lapsed, Welsh added.