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Garment sector may see additional unrest

Garment sector may see additional unrest

A LOCAL union at the centre of strikes last month in the garment industry threatened yesterday to renew work stoppages if the cases of suspended union representatives are not resolved by the end of the month.

Ek Sopheakdey, the secretary general of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said the CCAWDU had informed the government and industry representatives of the plan in a bid to aid union representatives suspended pending court rulings on the legality of last month’s strikes.

“We will do the strikes in front of stores and clothing shops, and we will announce to the world that garment factories in Cambodia abuse workers’ rights,” Ek Sopheakdey said.

We will announce to the world that garment factories in Cambodia abuse workers’ rights.

Officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Ek Sopheakdey added, had requested that CCAWDU give them more time to resolve the dispute before holding strikes.
Phin Sophea, a union representative at the River Rich garment factory in Kandal province, said 34 representatives at the site had met last week with officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs, who asked them to sign a three-point pledge in exchange for their return to work.

The three points, Phin Sophea said, called for workers to respect company regulations, to respect the Kingdom’s Labour Law and to stop inciting illegal strikes.

“We could not accept this last point in the agreement because if we agree, it seems like we’ve accepted that what we did was illegal,” Phin Sophea said.

Ket Chhoeun, a member of the Committee for the Settlement of Strikes and Demonstrations at the Ministry of Social Affairs who met with the River Rich workers, declined to comment yesterday.

A CCAWDU report released on Friday of last week said there were 94 union representatives who remained suspended in connection with last month’s strikes.

A total of 683 workers were dismissed after they protested the suspensions and then failed to heed a court order asking them to return to work within 48 hours, the CCAWDU said.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said renewed legal action was “definitely on the table” in the event of a new round of strikes. He urged workers not to get involved, citing the negative impact a renewed work stoppage would have on the industry.

“If it comes around the second time, it won’t be simply about reputation – buyers will start to reconsider their operations ... because this would be deemed as a sign of unrest, and more importantly, it would be a sign that even with the government’s attempts at intervention, the unions don’t respect the law,” Loo said.

Tuomo Poutiainen, the chief technical adviser for the International Labour Organisation’s Better Factories Cambodia programme, said new work stoppages “wouldn’t be very helpful” as the parties tried to resolve their disagreements.

“It’s necessary that both sides will take a bit of a step back and try to find those positive steps,” Poutiainen said.

Loo said GMAC figures indicated that just 67 union representatives remained suspended in relation to last month’s strikes, and that 358 had been dismissed.

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