THE percentage of garment-sector workers losing their jobs has declined by more than half over the past 18 months, according to a report released Thursday by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The 24th Synthesis Report from Better Factories Cambodia – which tracked 157 garment factories between November 2009 and this past April – also points to an increase in the number of trade unions being formed and a decline in strikes, though some observers said they did not believe these findings were reflective of a happier workforce.
Job losses affected 6 percent of the workforce in the period covered by the report, down from 12.5 percent in October 2008.
“Although employment is still down from one year ago, job losses resulting from the crisis have levelled off,” states a press release accompanying the report.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said the figures were “not surprising” in light of the recovering economy.
“I’m not surprised about this,” he said. “The economy is recovering, and it should be expected. Workers are coming back to Cambodia, and employers have more work.”
He noted, though, that the percentages provided by the report might not be precisely accurate.
“The report only covers about 150 factories,” he said. “It is impossible to cover all 284 factories in Cambodia. This report covers different factories to last year.”
Oum Mean, director general of the Labour Ministry’s Department of Labour, declined to comment on the report and referred questions to the ILO.
The report also found that 79 percent of factories had at least one union, marking a 3 percent increase over the previous six-month period. It also states that 9 percent of the factories had experienced a strike, down 5 percent from the previous six-month period.
But Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Cambodian Legal Education Centre, said an increase in the number of unions does not necessarily translate into an increase in protection for workers.
“Most workers organise unions, and they also suffer terminations” from their roles, he said. “Often they can’t function in their jobs properly, and they are also given shorter contracts.”
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said the decline in strikes did not mean garment factory employees were happy with their working conditions.
“The number of strikes being down doesn’t mean working conditions are improving,” he said. “They are down because when factories shut down, local authorities crack down and send the workers to the courts before they strike.”