Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday appealed to workers to “defend the factory” by avoiding strikes and protests that he said create “turmoil” and frighten businesses away from the Kingdom.
In a speech to workers at the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, the premier said that he had worked to attract investors from China to the SEZ, and called on workers to help keep the peace, likening factories to the family “rice pot”.
“When investors leave the country, the first people to be affected are workers. When turmoil happens, the investors will withdraw from the country,” said Hun Sen. “Those workers will go back to being farmers with their parents. Don’t forget that if there is no employer, there will be no worker.”
“I also the appeal to the employers,” he added. “The owner is not [just] owner of a factory, they are the owner of a house. We must cooperate with each other and not make small problems into big ones.”
In February, the Ministry of Labour reported a nearly 40 per cent drop in the number of Cambodians who went on strike last year, before taking credit for successfully resolving most of the work stoppages. Unions, however, were sceptical of the claim.
Meanwhile, there were 336 strikes in 2015, a dip of just 2 per cent from the year before.
William Conklin, Cambodia country director at workers advocacy NGO Solidarity Center, said that large labour actions had not materialised in 2016 – only factory-level strikes.
However, in late May the Free Trade Union said it would call on workers to strike if acting opposition president Kem Sokha is arrested in apparent violation of his parliamentary immunity over widely criticised legal cases related to an alleged sex scandal.
Pro-government unions condemned such “political” actions as illegal. But Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, said the calls were indicative of a double standard for unions, adding that pro-government unions are “always involved in politics”.
Free Trade Union director Chea Mony said that the strikes happen because public officials and some employers don’t obey the law, which is a bigger deterrent to investment than strikes.
“The government asks workers to not make turmoil, but the government must obey the law. When there is corruption, the investors will leave by themselves,” he said. “And now there are just as many [pro-employer] unions – they work just as messily with the workers.”
Conklin said that it was doubtful that current levels of labour action in Cambodia would significantly drive away investment. Thousands of strikes in Vietnam over the past few years have not resulted in the flight of its manufacturing industry, he noted.
Representatives of the Labour Ministry and the employers’ association GMAC could not be reached yesterday.