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Divide over factories' fixed contracts in Cambodia

Divide over factories' fixed contracts in Cambodia

120629_03
Garment workers leave a factory at the end of an overtime shift in Phnom Penh last year. Photograph: Will Baxter/Phnom Penh Post

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia has defended its member factories that use fixed-duration contracts (FDCs), saying it is unions and not workers that oppose their use.

Secretary-general Ken Loo said many factories employed garment workers on such contracts, not only because it is legal to do so, but because workers want it this way.

“Some of these are at the request of the workers,” he said, adding that in some factories, all workers are on FDCs. “It’s the unions that don’t want them.”

This was hardly evident during the second day of a forum involving almost 100 unions and the International Labour Organisation yesterday, when testimonies from union representatives spoke of the difficulties workers, especially those in the garment sector, face under these contracts.

Suon Sokunthea, vice-president of the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia, said such contracts give workers – who can be placed on months-long FDCs for up to two years – no job security and few benefits.

“It affects the workers – their rights have been deprived,” she said, adding that workers were constantly scared of their contracts not being renewed if they did anything wrong.

“If they want to stand for union election, they don’t dare. They lose freedom of expression and benefits,” she said.

“When employers know [workers] are pregnant, they don’t renew contracts. When they are sick, they’re forced to work.”

Dave Welsh, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said FDCs did not need to be abandoned, but a solution was needed to protect workers from being exploited.

“The main problem with FDCs is that they are widely abused,” he said.

“By keeping workers on FDCs, prospective union leaders [can be] terminated with no notice as long as they get a five per cent payout. It makes the whole work force completely temporary and flexible and is against the law.”

Loo said GMAC did not approve of factories using FDCs to avoid paying benefits. However, he said that he had seen little evidence that workers on FDCs were being prevented from unionising.

“I think it is a convenient statement to make. Unions have to prove it,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at [email protected]

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