Manufacturers’ association says industrial action is hurting the garment sector and calls for legislation on top of the Labour Law to rein in unions
Garment workers protest outside the Yung Wan garment factory in Takhmao province in January.
THE Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia (GMAC) has urged the government to fast-track a law regulating trade unions to relieve pressure on a sector that it claims has been besieged by a recent spate of strikes and demonstrations.
"We would like the government to adopt a union law as soon as possible to help the garment sector survive because too many trade unions are causing problems for the sector," GMAC President Van Sou Ieng said Monday.
"We want the government to allow just one union in each factory to reduce the number of strikes and demonstrations."
Van Sou Ieng was speaking at a two-day workshop organised by the Cambodia Federation of Employer and Business Associations (CAMFEBA) discussing what Cambodia can learn from trade union legislation in South Africa. Van Sou Ieng is also the president of CAMFEBA.
Cambodia's labour legislation does not limit the number of unions that can exist in a factory.
According to GMAC figures there are 1,569 unions operating in Cambodia compared to just over 300 factories.
Van Sou Ieng said that proliferation of unions prompted frequent demonstrations, causing buyers to lose confidence in the productivity of the garment sector in Cambodia.
"I think that the government must make the brave decision to draft a union law as too many strikes can cause damage to Cambodia's reputation," he said.
But union officials said the law was unnecessary since legal provisions relating to union activities already existed under the Kingdom's Constitution and the 1997 Labour Law.
"I would like GMAC to work with unions under constitutional law to clarify what is allowed to be carried out .... We welcome any action against illegal strikes and demonstrations held by any unions," said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Cambodia.
He said garment industry operators also had obligations to obey existing labour laws and provide satisfactory conditions for garment workers.
"GMAC must help to urge investors to obey the law because there will be no strikes or demonstrations if investors respect the law," he added.
Dragan Radic, a senior specialist in employer activities at the International Labour Organisation, said that a law specifically for labour unions would improve industrial relations; but it was important that Cambodia also establish effective institutions to enforce any new laws, as well as existing ones.
"I think that even if the government develops a good law, it will not be effective if the country lacks a good law enforcement system to support it," he said.
Officials at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs could not be reached for comment.