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Labor settlements upset management

Labor settlements upset management

IN the wake of a month of strikes and violent confrontation in Cambodia's garment

factories, some foreign employers claim concessions granted during the unrest are

unworkable.

They say conditions set down in a new labor law passed Jan 8 by the National Assembly,

are inappropriate because of serious shortfalls in Cambodia's workforce.

While the new law has been welcomed by most labor analysts, one foreign employer

who asked not to be named, said his company had no choice but to accept the "useless

new agreements".

"We are not sure what our future will be here now... we will have to wait and

see how Cambodian workers perform in the future," the Hong Kong manager said.

Van Sou Ieng, chairman of Cambodia's Garment Manufacturers Association, said he sees

the new provisions as "revenge" by the government against employers who

have been blamed for mistreating workers.

"It's [the law] not appropriate at the moment when the productivity of Cambodian

employees has not reached a basic standard.

"We will take a positive approach... if they improve their productivity, we'll

be very happy... if they do not... we will leave them [close factories]," Sou

Ieng said.

Sou Ieng cites the example of Chinese garment workers who he claims produce 24 pieces

a day costing $70-$80 per month, while Cambodian workers under the new agreements

may make only eight pieces a day at a cost of $90 per month.

"American and European buyers have a choice. If it is expensive here they can

buy from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka,"

he said.

Despite industry complaints that unrest and poor productivity are making Cambodia

unattractive to investors, government officials and labor analyst claim the opposite

is true.

They describe Cambodia as a future regional investment hub, citing "extremely

conducive investment laws" and unfilled European and US garment export quotas

as the main drawing cards.

"Cambodia is Southeast Asia's best kept secret, there are no bars to trade and

investment, and if new laws are even half way enforced labor problems will decrease,"

said one foreign commercial advisor.

"Quotas are the name of the game and garment manufacturers know it will be those

that are here already shipping to the US who will be selected when the US quotas

are imposed," he said.

"These long term considerations will outweigh short term concerns about labor

unrest and the new law should provide stability and predictability for both manufacturers

and workers," he predicted.

Industry Minister Pou Sothirak, agrees that recent industrial problems will have

little affect on the garment industries' long term future in Cambodia.

Sothirak, who headed various mediating discussions during the month of strikes, said

foreign factory owners have admitted there were problems with conditions within Cambodian

garment factories and have apologized.

"There has been irrefutable proof of workers being oppressed and managers have

agreed it was a problem of line managers overdoing the discipline, not respecting

Cambodian traditions and customs," he said.

"We have achieved tremendous compromises between workers and management over

this period and factory managers have now set up direct communications with the Ministry

of Labor and Industry," he said.

"This is not a disaster for the industry, owners now realize they will have

to concentrate more on internal public relations... they have made mistakes now they

understand," he said.

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