The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has appealed to Prime Minister
Hun Sen to take factory strikes off the streets.
Van Sou Ieng, GMAC chairman and representative of the Export Trade Facilitation Working
Group, made the request at the 11th Government-Private Sector Forum at the Council
for the Development of Cambodia in Phnom Penh on January 24. Sou Ieng has asked the
government to take strong and effective measures to enforce labor laws - specifically
that section of the law that he said prohibits factory workers from demonstrating
on the streets, but allows for strikes within factory compounds.
Sou Ieng also told the forum that many training courses and seminars conducted by
the International Labor Organization (ILO) and NGOs, educating workers on their rights,
encouraged them to hold more strikes.
"Many strikes, or rather demonstrations, from non-ethical and irresponsible
unions have created a bad image of Cambodia," Sou Ieng said. "This has
become intolerable [and is now] affecting existing investors' confidence," Sou
Ieng said. "There must be something wrong with this training process."
He said in his speech that in 2006 the garment factory lost 343,713 working days
due to illegal and wildcat strikes. Ieng estimated that approximately 30 percent
of the strikes were organized by the Free Trade Union (FTU) led by Chea Mony, the
Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC) led by Ath Thorn, and the Khmer Youth Federation
Trade Union (KYFTU) led by Yun Rithy.
He said that within the last three months FTU-led strikes alone had caused 3,000
workers to lose their jobs, with one factory abandoning its night shift operation
and another closing.
He said there is nothing in the Cambodian investment law that allows such strikes.
Sou Ieng expressed surprise that the three unions had been unable to unite into a
single confederation. "This disparity within unions surely reflects that some
of them represent their self-interest and maybe the interests of other groups,"
He said the garment industry's 2006 exports were a remarkable success, and 57 new
garment factories had been established in Cambodia. These have created 50,000 new
jobs of which 90 percent are for poor rural women.
The industry now employs 320,000 people. It is the sixth biggest exporter of women's
and girls' T-shirts to the United States and the tenth biggest of pants.
But, Chea Mony told the Post on January 25 the FTU rejected GMAC allegations. He
said all factory owners were informed of workers' demands well in advance of the
strikes, but that the owners had simply ignored their issues.
Mony said the closures of four garment factories earlier this year had nothing to
do with strikes or demonstrations.
He said these were because of owners embezzling funds and fleeing the country, internal
disputes, and mismanagement within the companies.
"We organized strikes because we wanted to encourage factory owners to respect
the law and improve working conditions," Mony said. "We need GMAC to show
us some evidence for its allegations."
Also at the forum, Hun Sen warned the ILO to examine its employees and reports on
the garment industry in Cambodia, saying the ILO had produced "untruthful reports"
concerning garment factories. He made the comments in response to concerns from a
potential investor at the forum that ILO working condition reports were putting off
The ILO in Bangkok has since issued a press statement announcing it has written to
the Cambodian government "seeking clarification" on Hun Sen's comments
about the ILO in Cambodia.
"The ILO's work in Cambodia has been taking place in a harmonious climate and
we look forward to the continuation of these positive relations and constructive
cooperation," the statement said.
Since 2001 the ILO has been running a project, Better Factories (BF), which monitors
working conditions in Cambodia's garment factories. BF project manager Tuomo Poutiainen
told local press he was unaware of any recent rise in problems in their monitoring
system, and it was the first time BF had heard such allegations.