Says further disruptions could lead to employment losses.
PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday urged 3,500 garment workers to resolve labour issues through peaceful means including legal arbitration, warning that strikes and demonstrations could lead to further job losses in the troubled garment sector, which has contracted substantially since the onset of the global economic downturn.
In a speech at a meeting hall in Kandal province's Takhmao district, Hun Sen also said he had instructed the Ministry of Labour to organise training courses for garment factory workers who had lost their jobs and were looking to transition to other careers, said union officials who attended the speech.
Some 50,000 Cambodian garment workers have lost their jobs since June 2008, according to figures provided by Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC). Ath Thorn estimated that 60 to 70 percent of those workers had returned to their home provinces after being laid off, while 10 to 20 percent had found new garment factory jobs or other jobs. The remaining workers had started their own businesses, he said.
Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, told the Post last month that 70 garment factories had closed since last August and that 51,000 garment workers had lost their jobs or seen their contracts suspended.
Sem Sokha, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said Tuesday's gathering of 28 unions was convened to mark International Labour Day, which is observed on May 1.
Ath Thorn, who did not attend, criticised the government for allegedly inviting only pro-government unions, a charge to which Sem Sokha declined to respond.
Ath Thorn said the six CLC unions along with the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association would attend an alternate gathering in front of Wat Botum on May 1.
"We plan to have 2,500 workers, including garment, tourism, construction and other workers, coming from the provinces and cities throughout Cambodia to meet on International Labour Day," he said.
He said the demonstration's organisers planned to submit a petition enumerating several requests, including for the establishment of a labour court as well as a requirement that garment factories give severance pay to their employees when they close.
WE WILL HAVE MORE DIFFICULTY in MAKING DEMANDS IN THE INTEREST OF WORKERS.
Ath Thorn said the workers will gather in front of Wat Botum at 8:30am on the morning of May 1, at which time the petition will be read by union leaders. They will then proceed to the Council of Ministers to file the petition, then walk to the site near Wat Lanka where trade unionist Chea Vichea was assassinated in 2004. Then they will walk to the National Assembly building to file the petition there as well.
Ath Thorn said there was some concern on the part of union leaders that the economic downturn had weakened their bargaining position with factory owners.
"As a result of the global economic crisis, we will have more difficulty in making demands in the interest of workers, including higher salaries and improved working conditions," he said. "Companies have been more likely to ignore our demands."
But he said this would not discourage them from demonstrating because "there are big problems in Cambodia" and "the government has to solve them".