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New group to address strikes

The Minister of Social Affairs has urged factory owners to reinstate suspended garment workers and called for union representatives to cancel all strikes pending negotiations to be conducted by a new bipartite committee.

Speaking after a four-hour meeting held at the Social Affairs Ministry, Minister Ith Sam Heng said the government hoped to find a “win-win” solution for factory owners and workers following disputes spurred largely by a July decision that set the industry minimum wage at US$61 per month.

The new wage, which is set to come into affect in October, falls far below the $93 some union leaders had sought.

The meeting, which was called in response to a large-scale strike that began on September 13, was attended by union leaders, industry representatives, and government officials.

“We talked with each other very hard, and both sides agreed to solve the problem by peaceful negotiation,” Ith Sam Heng said.

He said a new committee to be made up of five union representatives, five industry representatives, and two government officials – one from the Ministry of Social Affairs, and one from the Ministry of Labour – would conduct the negotiations.

“When they get a result, they will send it to the Labour Advisory Committee to approve,” he said.

He said that a timeline for negotiations had not yet been set, but noted that industry and worker representatives would have until Wednesday to send a list of nominated committee members to the Social Affairs Ministry.
Ath Thun, head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said he had agreed to cancel any strikes pending the results of the negotiations, so long as factory owners reinstated suspended employees and dropped legal complaints against them.
“I see that the government is paying attention to stop the problem peacefully by sitting to negotiate, and I agreed to stop striking if the employers agree to negotiate,” he said. “If they continue filing the complaints, or still suspend or fire the workers, the strikes cannot end.”
He claimed, however, that the government’s requests had been met with some resistance from factory owners.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, yesterday disputed claims from some union leaders that more than 3,000 workers had been fired from factories in Kandal province, but noted that some union representatives had been suspended because the courts had deemed the strikes to be illegal.
The strikes were unlawful in part because, contrary to union claims, they had been declared only two days in advance, he said. The new committee would be “useless” if the parties involved did not respect such legal rulings, he added.
The strike, which was originally scheduled to last five days, was called off on its fourth day after the Ministry of Social Affairs announced the meeting, which took place Monday.
Union leaders said at the time that they had called off the strike because they expected the meeting to address potential “benefits” for workers earning the minimum wage.
Loo said such benefits had not been negotiated at yesterday’s meeting but would be discussed by the committee. “We shut the door for minimum wage, but we always made it very clear that we will negotiate the other allowances after October,” he said.
He said he expected the committee to begin negotiations next month, with the two government representatives attending “as moderators”. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE



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