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SL strike ‘bad’ for industry’s rep, says union

A labour union representing a minority of workers who have been striking at SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd for nearly three months released a statement yesterday, calling the strike bad for the industry’s reputation.

Without specifically mentioning the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) – which represents the majority of SL’s roughly 6,000 employees – Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, which represents some 2,000 SL employees, condemned the recent violent turn protests at the factory have taken.

“It gives a bad reputation for factories in Cambodia,” Mony said yesterday. “That’s why I have to request an end to this kind of protest.”

During demonstrations in front of one of SL’s Meanchey district factories on Thursday and Friday last week, security guards and other SL employees fired air rifles and flung marbles from slingshots into a crowd of protesters, C.CAWDU, vice-president Kong Athit said.

At least 10 strikers were hospitalised for injuries sustained from the projectiles, by Athit’s count.

SL officials on Sunday asserted that demonstrators, not company officials, began throwing objects.

But rather than casting Cambodia’s garment industry in a negative light, the prolonged strike at one of Asia’s largest garment processing factories reflects the consequences of Cambodian factory managers refusing to seriously negotiate with their employees, said Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Centre.

However, Tola added, the seeming animosity between unions – C.CAWDU released a statement decrying tactics used in an FTU garment strike in early June – undermines their shared objectives.

“That is not a good image among the trade unions.… We want to see the unions on the same page,” Tola said. “You need to protect and work for the benefit of the workers.”

Cambodia is now home to more than 30 garment worker unions, Tola said.

Mony yesterday denied his statement was a shot at C.CAWDU, adding that the increasing length and intensity of the strike could inspire garment workers at factories across the Kingdom to begin an industry-wide strike.

“I am worried that all workers over the country will join a big strike because they are angry with [SL’s] use of violence on the workers,” Mony said.

Upon hearing of the letter in an interview with the Post yesterday, Kong Athit, C.CAWDU’s vice-president laughed.

“I have no comment on that,” Athit said. “I don’t want to comment on [Mony] anymore.”

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