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Workers face contract woes

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A woman works at a garment factory in Phnom Penh in September last year.

The use of short-term contracts by employers in the Kingdom’s garment industry is threatening workers’ rights and could lead to decreased productivity in the sector, researchers said at a meeting yesterday.

Following the release of a report by Yale Law School last week based on research conducted in 2009, researchers stated that “fixed-duration contracts” are affecting the ability of workers to obtain benefits such as maternity leave, sick leave and seniority bonuses.

Workers employed under FDCs are hired on a temporary, short-term basis, rather than being employed on permanent contracts.

“The consequences for workers of FDCs are disastrous. FDCs are used to make it more difficult to form unions and it prevents collective bargaining,” report researcher Clark Gard said at the meeting yesterday.

Yim Seda, 34, a former garment worker in the capital’s Sen Sok district, said yesterday that after her FDC expired in March her employer refused to rehire her.

“The factory did not want me to sign another contract because they found out that I was a member of a union,” she said.

She claimed she had been unable to find employment at another factory because she had been identified as a union member.

The report suggested that FDCs could also hamper productivity by increasing worker insecurity, which “decreases the potential for collective bargaining and peaceful industrial relations and limits the ability of workers to enjoy their basic rights”.

However, Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, said yesterday that employers had the right to make use of FDCs.

“Companies must have the freedom or the choice to make use of employment contracts as they see fit,” he said, adding that workers enjoyed a high level of protection in the Kingdom.

Ken Loo added that while some factories use FDCs to discriminate against unions, the law should not be based on the actions of “a few black sheep”. “What we should do then is to try to find ways to punish those that engage in such practices and not take away the right of companies to use FDCs,” he said.

Among the report’s recommendations are that the government set limits for the duration of FDCs and for the number of times an FDC may be renewed before being converted into an “undetermined-duration” or permanent contract.

Labour Ministry officials declined to comment when approached yesterday.

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