Amid a spate of garment factory strikes – including one at Tai Yang Enterprises that has lasted more than a month – Cambodia’s Arbitration Council yesterday said it wanted the industry to renew a memorandum of understanding on industrial action that has been in limbo since November.
“[The MoU] is something we would like the industry to come to the table on,” Arbitration Council Foundation executive director Sok Lor told the Post.
Strikes have increased significantly at garment factories since the MoU expired, while the Arbitration Council, an independent body funded by the World Bank, has also experienced a dramatic surge in cases across many industries.
The MoU, introduced in 2010, spelled out striking as a last resort and committed parties to comply with Arbitration Council rulings – not usually required because the council has no enforcement powers.
“In that environment, when we issued decisions, generally there was good compliance,” Lor said. “Strikes also dropped significantly – actually we had the lowest strike numbers ... basically in the eight-year history of the Arbitration Council.”
Disputes are sent to the Arbitration Council if they cannot be resolved through mediation between the Ministry of Labour, employers and workers.
The council’s arbitrators include HR professionals, lawyers, retired ministry officials and former unionists.
About 30 per cent of cases the Arbitration Council hears go unresolved due to non-compliance, Lor said, including the strike at Tai Yang Enterprises in Kandal province, which has continued despite an order for the strikers to return to work while mediation takes place.
“If we would like our [success rate] to go up, then there should be some fundamental changes in the policy to make everything binding, so that a party has no choice to not follow,” he said, adding this change did not have to be by way of the MoU.
“But we don’t want it coming from us; we would like the industry to agree to something.”
Ken Loo, the secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said GMAC had discussed renewing an amended MoU with unions.
“[Reducing strikes] is not what we’re hoping to achieve [with this document], but if it helps then that is great,” he said.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said the MoU could be signed in the next two weeks.
“The truth is that disputes can be resolved and limited under an MoU,” he said.
The Arbitration Council was important but useless if its decisions were ignored, he said.