A woman fired from the Conpress Holding garment factory last week said she terminated her pregnancy of three months on Sunday in a desperate bid to gain reinstatement for herself and three other workers fired last week for unionising.
Huk Pov, Free Trade Union president for the Phnom Penh Meanchey district factory, said factory officials would typically fire workers if they found out they were pregnant so she had an abortion before leading yesterday’s strike to demand reinstatement.
“I decided to abort my baby without letting my husband know, because the company discriminates against workers having babies,” she said.
“I will be very disappointed if the company still refuses to accept me back to work, even though I aborted my baby because of work.”
Pov said she would not, however, give up her role as a union leader, even if it meant the factory would not allow her to return to her job.
Thun Bunny, administrative manager at Conpress Holding, denied that the factory fired workers because they were pregnant.
But Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), said the CLEC had received several reports of factories asking pregnant garment workers to resign.
Such demands often led workers to seek abortions, causing tensions between women who want to work and their husbands, who want them to remain pregnant, Tola said, adding that at least one dispute of this kind had led to the wife’s suicide.
A report from the International Labour Organisation’s Better Factories Cambodia program found that 19 per cent of the 136 Cambodian factories monitored from November, 2011 to April, 2012 engaged in discrimination among their workers and particularly targeted pregnant women.
Women face “dismissal or non-renewal of contracts when they become visibly pregnant”, the report states.
Tola and Dave Welsh, country director for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said short-term “fixed duration contracts” of a few months left such workers especially vulnerable to losing their jobs. They recommended that factories provide workers with more secure contracts.
Cambodia’s labour law says factories must offer maternity leave with 50 per cent pay, but short-term contracts help factories get around this because the law applies only to workers employed for at least a year, Tola said.