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‘Anti-union bias’ in factories

Garment factory workers receive treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh after a mass fainting episode in April
Garment factory workers receive treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh after a mass fainting episode in April. Vireak Mai

‘Anti-union bias’ in factories

Discrimination against unions and incidents of garment factory managers interfering with freedom of association has slightly increased in the past year, a report from an International Labour Organization (ILO) factory-monitoring group says.

Factory managers’ hindrance of workers’ freedom of association rose by 2 per cent and anti-union bias climbed by 1 per cent, a synthesis report from the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) says. Data for the report were collected from 362 garment and nine shoe factories between May 2013 and this past April.

“We have to try new strategies to see more improvement,” Jill Tucker BFC’s chief technical adviser, said of the report, which also found improvements in areas including personal protection equipment and managers allowing sick leave. “The improvements are too small for my liking.”

In March, BFC launched a transparency database on its website, which publicly names factories that do not comply with critical issues such as correctly paid overtime wages and proper emergency exit doors.

Tucker said she hopes the database will push factory managers to follow Cambodia’s labour law more closely. There are currently 61 factories listed on the database, but that number will rise to 155 by the end of this week. “We need to see much more of a steady upper trend,” Tucker said.

Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Center, yesterday agreed that action against unions has increased over the past year.

“It’s been unprecedented … we had over 1,000 union dismissals in the past 12 months,” Preston said.

BFC’s data show that 9 per cent of factories interfered with freedom of association, a figure Preston said “seems really low”.

The report also says that one likely cause of managers stymieing union rights and subjecting employees to poor working conditions is a disconnect between workers and their bosses.

“The absence of Occupational Health and Safety Committees in 71% of factories underlines the lack of engagement between workers and management on these issues,” the report reads, highlighting such areas as heat levels, obstructed access paths and a lack of proper equipment for handling chemicals.

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