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Competing explanations for sliding strike numbers

Prak Bun Theoun, secretary of the committee for strike and demonstration resolution, speaks at the launch of a report on strikes yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Prak Bun Theoun, secretary of the committee for strike and demonstration resolution, speaks at the launch of a report on strikes yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

Competing explanations for sliding strike numbers

The number of strikes and labour-related demonstrations plummeted in 2016, with just 220 cases versus 582 the year before, the Ministry of Labour said yesterday, a fact at least one workers’ advocate attributed to strict enforcement of the controversial Trade Union Law.

Prak Bun Theoun, the ministry’s secretary of the committee for strike and demonstration resolution, said last year’s cases involved 211 factories and 54,978 workers. Forty of the factories involved in protests were closed by years’ end, leaving a total of 12,646 workers out of work.

Bun Theoun added that all but six cases were resolved. “The committee’s effort to find resolutions on all strike and demonstration [cases led to] some being resolved successfully and others unsuccessfully, but we still continue to find a solution for all of them,” he said.

In 2016, a total of 141 garment factories closed, though 149 new ones opened shop. Moeun Tola, executive director for labour rights group Central, said he disagreed with the credit lavished on the committee, maintaining that the number of strikes decreased due to crackdowns and the stricter law, which makes it more difficult for unions to launch strikes.

He added the ministry didn’t mention the number of cases it refused to accept in its total count of cases resolved.

“The decrease of the number of strikes does not mean that the number of labour rights disputes is decreasing,” he said. “[It] does not mean that the working condition in Cambodia has improved.”

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