TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP
Misubishi muscles in
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An (left) looks at a Mitsubishi car during the official apening of Japanese carmaker's showroom in Phnom Penh on March 18. Mitsubishi Motors said it is committed to developing the brand in the Cambodian market.
As workers at the Kings-land Garment Factory in Phnom Penh continued a two-month-long strike, a European trade union asked the Ministry of Commerce to revoke the export license of the Hong Kong company.
Kingsland’s behavior “is undermining confidence in the rest of the industry which is doing its best to ensure compliance with Cambodian labor law and international labor standard,” said Neil Kearney, secretary general of the Brussels-based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation.
ITGLWF sent a letter on March 11 to Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh urging him to halt exports by the garment company which employed 600 workers in Phnom Penh.
The Minister of Commerce and officials of Kingsland declined requests for an interview. The factory is closed as protests continue.
The trade union said Kingsland management ignored a request by the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU) to “engage in dialogue regarding labor issues at the workplace and instead dismissed 19 union leaders and supporters.”
The strike began in January when management refused to negotiate with the CCAWDU regarding the dismissals and instead hired replacement workers, the ITGLWF said in a statement.
Several workers were injured in early February during protests outside the factory gates and six other workers were injured when they were attacked by police officers called in by the management.
CCAWDU president Ath Thorn said that since the dispute began many complaints had been filed with the Ministry of Labor, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), the Arbitration Council, the International Labor Organization and the Ministry of Commerce.
Thorn said the request to lift the export license was “very strong pressure” and that he hoped it would force Kingsland management to negotiate. “Otherwise we will continue to strike until the end,” he said.
Thorn said he had urged the Ministry of Labor to push the case forward so that the Ministry of Commerce would be forced to take measures against the factory owners.
He said 19 workers were unjustly sacked and more than ten other workers were injured during violence between workers and policemen called in by the factory.
At the Ministry of Labor, Sok Bora, deputy director of labor dispute office, told the Post on March 18 that the ministry had proposed an agreement and that both parties had accepted a deal in which dismissed union representatives would be allowed back to work.
However, he said management of the Kingsland factory in Phnom Penh was waiting for approval from Hong Kong.
“We are waiting to see the result from Hong Kong because the manager here dares not to approve [the deal],” Bora said.
“If they agree to allow the dismissed workers to return to work the problem will end,” he added.
Bora said that the strike is being continued by about 50 workers. He said many problems occurred at the factory due to misunderstandings between management and workers who, he said, consider only their personal interests.
The GMAC did not intervene in the dispute.
Long Heang, an official at the association, confirmed the case had been sent to the Arbitration Council and the Ministry of Labor.
“We are not in-depth with the issue,” he said, adding that, “It’s a factory matter.”
The problems at the Kingsland factory come as the Kingdom grapples with external market pressures.
Garment exports dropped 46 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2007 amid increasing regional competition from China and Vietnam and an economic slump in the US, which imports some 70 percent of Cambodia’s exported garments.
According to Othsman Hassan, secretary of state at Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, strikes in Cambodia’s garment industry fell from 86 in 2006 to 80 in 2007.