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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Get strikes of streets, PM urged

Get strikes of streets, PM urged

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.

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

some investors.

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.



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