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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Garment association foresees supreme fight

Garment association foresees supreme fight

As Cambodia’s lar­gest confederation of unions lobbies the government to curtail the use of  short-term contracts in the garment industry, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia is prepared for one of its members to take the dispute all the way to the Supreme Court, its secretary-general, Ken Loo, said yesterday.

Loo also dismissed allegations that some factories were using short-term contracts to weed out pregnant workers so they could avoid paying maternity leave.

“That’s not true at all,” he said. “The unions have been accusing us of this forever,” he added, saying that if this was happening, the unions could inform GMAC and it would investigate.

“No one has approached us on these matters,” he said, referring as well to allegations that short-term contracts were being used to short-change workers.

At issue is a July 2003 ruling by the Arbitration Council that interpreted two articles of the Labour Law to mean that keeping staff on short-term contracts for longer than two years was illegal.

The ruling, formally objected to by GMAC, ultimately relies on the French-language draft of the law, which the Arbitration Council ruled clearly precludes the use of short-term contracts for more than two years.

Loo said, however, that “the people who helped draft the law are still around, and they have confirmed that the labour ministry’s interpretation of the law is right”.

Previously, he told the Post that GMAC had received two letters from the ministry stating that it was legal to continue using short-term contracts after two years.

Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thon said the CLC had a four-step strategy for curbing the use of short-term contracts, and that the first step had been taken last week. It petitioned the Ministry of Labour as well as the prime minister’s Cabinet to curb the use of short-term contracts.

If the government does not act on its petition the CLC will mobilise its members, seek alliances with non-governmental organisations and international unions, and – if all else fails – stage a massive demonstration in front of the National Assembly, Ath Thon said, adding this would likely occur near the end of this year.

He also said that the issues that prompted the national strike in 2010 had yet to be resolved, and that the next one would be larger.

Ath Thon said “it is becoming more popular [for employers] to use the courts to threaten workers”.

Loo said that GMAC’s members “have been holding back” from using the courts because it was a long and expensive process. The dispute over short-term contracts, however, was an issue that was becoming more serious, he said.

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