A new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) into working conditions
at garment factories in Cambodia has documented ongoing problems including difficulties
with wage payments, sexual harassment, forced overtime, and unfair dismissals.
The Second Synthesis Report, which was released April 12, examined 34 factories.
It revealed that workers in all but four said they did not receive the wages they
were entitled to.
"The biggest problem is wages," said Lejo Sibbel, chief technical advisor
at the ILO. "There is no excuse for not paying workers what they are due."
The report also noted instances of union leaders and workers being fired for trying
to establish unions.
"[Freedom of association] is a cornerstone of workers' rights," said Sibbel.
"If you don't allow people to organize, you take away their voice and they are
unable to defend their rights."
On the positive side the report found no evidence of forced labor or discrimination.
However, it did note forced overtime at 22 factories, and also found that 29 factories
made employees work more than the maximum two hour daily limit for overtime.
Another problem uncovered regarded companies with more than 100 female staff, which
are required by law to establish a day-care center or pay for private day care. None
of the factories had complied with that requirement.
Sibbel said a confidentiality agreement with the factories meant the ILO could not
elaborate on reports of sexual harassment in three factories; however, he said none
involved violence or rape.
He blamed many of the shortcomings on poor knowledge of the law among factory managers
as well as a lack of enforcement.
"Individual employers and factories need to make changes," said Sibbel.
"We expect progress within four or five months."
The chairman of the Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC), Van Sou
Ieng, said the shortcomings were more likely due to the fact that most factory managers
were foreign and encountered language barriers.
He accused the ILO monitors of asking "misleading questions" and suggested
that might account for the high number of reported wage problems.
"I am surprised if these factories don't pay the right wages," said Sou
Ieng. "I tried to get the names of the [offending] factories, but the ILO would
not give them to me. We need the names."
However, he agreed with the ILO that it was wrong for workers to be sacked simply
for trying to establish a union. He said GMAC would talk with the ILO about the intentions
of its monitoring teams.
"This ILO program should continue," he concluded. "It is good for
the country but we need more clarification from ILO monitors."
The report is part of a monitoring project to improve conditions in the garment industry.
The industry employs about 200,000 people, around two in three of all workers in
the manufacturing sector.