Global brands Levi’s and Gap had slashed their orders from the Tai Yang and Camwell garment factories by 20 per cent, the factories’ boss said yesterday, amid the longest strike in the industry’s recent history.
Tai Yang Enterprises manager Wu Minghuor said his company had shuttered its Tai Yang II factory this week in response to the big brands’ decision to buy less – which he blamed on the strikers and their unions – and had relocated staff to its neighbouring factories.
“Our buyers, Gap and the Levi’s company, have reduced orders for our products. That’s the reason we closed the factory,” he said. “We really regret this. If the workers had not gone on strike like this, my factory would not have closed. We definitely can’t accept them back to work now,” he said.
Tomorrow marks two months since employees from three adjoining Tai Yang Enterprises factories in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district walked off the job, claiming the company had changed its name in 2010 to avoid paying workers seniority bonuses.
In the latest attempt to end the strike, which has involved more than 4,000 workers, Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng sent a letter to Tai Yang last week requesting Minghuor reinstate the remaining 37 strikers he claims to have sacked.
Union groups believe such reinstatement would end the dispute – allowing for negotiations over bonuses to follow when stability returns to the factory – but Minghuor said he had told Sam Heng he intended to lock the remaining workers out for good.
Since the strike began at the factories on June 25, police have been accused of using violence against workers and a union representative, and the Cambodian Confederation of Unions has been accused of inflaming the situation to win new members after the Free Trade Union announced it was splitting from it.
On top of this, the company has been accused of trying to broker deals that contravene the Labour Law, and workers have refused a court order to return to their jobs.
All the while, strikers like 30-year-old Un Saveoun have been trying to survive without an income.
The garment worker said yesterday she did not regret her involvement in the strike, but her life had become unbearable as she waited for a resolution.
“I do not know how to describe how difficult my life is right now,” she said. “It is difficult, more than I can say.”
Saveoun, who has not been paid since the strike began, has been borrowing money from her sister to pay her bills, but said she felt compelled to keep going – however long it might take for the dispute to be resolved.
CCU president Rong Chhun said yesterday he was disappointed that the government had not been able resolve the dispute and that Minghuor could “do whatever he wants”.
Although negotiations had reached an impasse, Chhun said the strike was not over.
“The workers have struggled very hard with this strike for two months. This is the longest strike involving workers demanding their benefits that Cambodia has ever had,” he said, adding that they would keep striking.
Dave Welsh, country director of the American Centre for International Labor Solidarity, said resolving the issue did not have to be difficult.
Tai Yang needed to “put two and two together” and realise the link between the strike and big brands reducing their orders, he said.
“It’s a very simple decision [for Minghuor].”
Welsh added that the strike was undermining Cambodia’s most important export industry and eating up valuable government resources that could instead be used to focus on more important issues, such as enacting the trade-union law.
“We also have negotiations this month over [renewing] the industry’s memorandum of understanding, and the prime minister has been talking about the idea of a Labour Court,” he said. “Wasting resources on a small but important matter is ridiculous.”
Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo said the decision of Levi’s and Gap to reduce orders was “absolutely” the result of the strike.
“Obviously, reductions in orders will have a negative impact on the company. They will probably require [fewer] workers. They may need to retrench some workers . . . it looks likely,” Loo said.
Levi’s and Gap did not respond to questions from the Post.