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Union rejects industry offer

THE Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia said yesterday that it would drop all complaints related to last month’s strikes in exchange for apologies from workers and unions, an offer a prominent union leader said had been rejected.

GMAC Secretary General Ken Loo said the offer had come following “several meetings” with union leaders and government officials convened in an attempt to resolve the outstanding disputes within the industry.

“We have two main conditions that we deem necessary. Firstly would be at the confederation level, we need a letter of apology ... not to us, but rather to all stakeholders,” Loo said.

“Secondly, at the enterprise level, the workers in question at the enterprise level have got to apologise to the factories.”

“If the unions accept the facts and acknowledge the fact that they were in the wrong, that’s the end of the issue.”

But Kong Athit, secretary general of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said GMAC’s offer was unacceptable.

“We cannot do that because we are not wrong and the government did not accuse us of being wrong,” he said. “If we apologise to them, it means we admit we were wrong, and then they can make more problems for us.”

Loo said 67 union representatives in total remained suspended in connection with strikes held last month to protest the minimum wage for garment workers. A total of 358 workers who protested the suspensions of their representatives had been fired because they ignored court orders requiring them to return to work within 48 hours, he added.

Kong Athit disputed these figures, however. He said 106 union representatives remained suspended and 677 workers had had their contracts terminated after protesting these suspensions.

Loo said that if the unions and workers did not agree to apologise, the factories that had filed complaints would continue to pursue them through the court system.

“If they don’t feel they were in the wrong, obviously they don’t have to apologise,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t think we were wrong, and the unions don’t admit they were wrong, but somebody’s wrong, so we can only turn to the courts to intervene.”

In a speech last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for employers to drop complaints against workers and union representatives.

Tuomo Poutiainen, the chief technical adviser for the International Labour Organisation’s Better Factories Cambodia programme, said it was still possible to find a compromise that would suit both the unions and the employers. He pointed to last month’s signing of a memorandum of understanding between union and industry representatives related to dispute resolution as a promising step for the Kingdom’s industrial relations.
“In my opinion, there’s basis to find positive cohabitation, and that would play well for the future of the industry,” Poutiainen said.

On Monday, 22 union representatives who had been suspended at the Sangwoo garment factory in Kampong Speu province were allowed to return to their jobs following a meeting with factory management.

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